New Delhi: After India deported UK lawyer for jailed Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia on Wednesday night on the grounds of misrepresenting his “intended activity” on his visa application, Lord Alexander Carlile accused New Delhi of “supine and slavish” behaviour for succumbing to pressure from Dhaka.
Bangladesh had summoned acting Indian high commissioner Adarsh Swaki on Tuesday (July 3) after a Bangladeshi newspaper had reported that Lord Alexander Carlile was planning to visit India.
Carlile landed from London on Air India flight 162 at Indira Gandhi International Airport at around 11:10 pm. On arrival, he was informed that his visa had been revoked and he had to depart by the next available flight.
Within an hour, just after midnight, India’s ministry of external affairs spokesperson Ravish Kumar issued a statement.
“Lord Alexander Carlile, a British national, arrived in New Delhi on July 11, 2018 without having obtained the appropriate Indian visa. His intended activity in India was incompatible with the purpose of his visit as mentioned in his visa application. It was therefore decided to deny him entry into India upon arrival,” said Kumar.
Carlile, who had apparently obtained an business e-visa, was scheduled to hold a press conference on Thursday afternoon. Finally, he spoke to the media over a Skype connection after some initial technical difficulties.
He denied the Indian foreign office’s claim about mis-representing the purpose of his visit.
“I have in front of me my business e-visa granted several days ago by the government of India, 1004VH735118. It is the appropriate visa and the Indian government knew why I was coming to Delhi,” Carlile said from London on Thursday afternoon.
He claimed that his office had “several iterations with the visa department”. “I answered all the questions I was asked, correctly… It is upto the government what questions they ask,” he said.
Carlile mentioned in his visa application that he was travelling for a meeting in Delhi. “I am a lawyer and as a UK chairman of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, they knew perfectly well why I was coming. There are two visas available – one is for tourist purposes and other is business visa. That is what I had applied for”.
The senior British lawyer explained that he was travelling to Delhi as his visa for Dhaka had not been granted.
“I was advised that the biggest gathering of the media in the region would be found in Delhi and I thought that it would be a good idea to come to Delhi and meet the media from the region,” said Carlile.
But his deportation had prevented him from discharging his duties as a lawyer, accused Carlile, “due to the Bangladesh government’s complete contempt for rule of law and the Indian government’s supine and slavish succumbing to the protest of the Bangladesh”.
In his weekly briefing, the MEA spokesperson Kumar reiterated that Carlile’s visa was revoked as it did not match his purpose. “…what he reflected in the visa application form and what he intended to do was not compatible…and what he intended to do is very clear when you go through the statement that he intended to make”.
Waving the original statement of Carlile that he was scheduled to read out at the press conference, Kumar asked, “He applied for a business visa, what kind of business is this?”.
Kumar also pointed out Carlile had been “informed in advance” that the visa was not valid. “We informed him in advance that your visa is not valid. So he came with a return boarding pass. He already had a boarding pass when he landed. and the boarding pass for a flight which left after two hours,” he said.
The Indian foreign office spokesperson said that Carlile’s intent in visiting India was “suspect”.
“One, he was trying to create some kind of problem between India and Bangladesh.. and second, is also to create some kind of misunderstanding between India and the opposition party in Bangladesh. Our engagement with the opposition party in Bangladesh is very clear. You must have seen that whenever our dignitaries visit Bangladesh, we have meetings with them,” he said.
When asked about carrying a return boarding pass to Delhi, Carlile denied knowing that his Indian visa had been revoked or having booked a quick return flight.
“My actual return ticket is for return tomorrow by Air India. She (My secretary) made the new reservation at about 1630 after advice from the UK Foreign Office and from my wife,” he told The Wire, adding that the boarding pass was emailed to him.
He described MEA statements about denial of visa as a “tissue of lies” and demanded a personal apology “without delay”. “It was outrageous, untrue, and gratuitously insulting. That is not what I expect from Indian officials,” he said.
His visit was to take place just a few weeks after a delegation of senior Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP – Khaleda Zia’s party) members visited Delhi to meet with think-tanks and Indian politicians. The BNP delegation called upon India to ensure that the forthcoming parliamentary elections were free and fair and New Delhi wasn’t seen to be backing just one party in Bangladesh.
After the BNP delegation’s visit, the MEA spokesperson had denied that India would interfere in elections in the neighbourhood. “I don’t think government of India is going to intervene or interfere in any democratic exercise which is being conducted in any country around us and especially the neighbouring countries,” he said.
On July 1, Bangladeshi newspaper Daily Sun first reported that Carlile was planning to travel to the Indian capital to meet with “Indian government policymakers and journalists”.
Four days later, the acting Indian high commissioner Adarsh Swakia was summoned and issued a démarche by Bangladeshi foreign secretary Mohammed Shahidul Haque. The Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh Harsh Shringla was in Delhi to attend the annual heads of missions conference. India apparently assured Dhaka that Indian soil would not be used for ‘anti-Bangladesh activity’.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s political advisor H.T. Imam was also in Delhi last weekend to reinforce the message that BNP has collaborated against Indian interests.
When The Wire contacted Carlile while he was at the Delhi airport, he refused to comment on the revocation of his Indian visa. “I do not want to speak to a journalist now. I will hold a press conference tomorrow.”
In July last year, the British peer had invited members of the BNP and ruling Awami League for a ‘dialogue’ at the House of Lords. However, Awami League leaders did not show up at the event despite confirming their participation. They claimed that they had only accepted the invitation “as they were not aware that the seminar was a private event”.
An independent peer, Carlile was appointed the BNP chairperson’s international counsel in March, after the former prime minister was sentenced to five year’s imprisonment for embezzling funds meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust.
The Bangladesh government had criticised the appointment of Carlile, pointing out that the senior British lawyer had described the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) process as highly flawed.
After his appointment to Khaleda Zia’s defence team, Carlile had to deny claims in Bangladeshi media that he had provided legal advice to leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, who were convicted by ICT of war crimes during the 1971 freedom movement.
He has alleged that Khaleda Zia’s conviction on embezzlement charges in February this year was politically motivated to cripple the opposition party in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in December.
“There is going to be an election at the end of year. It seems plain to me given that there is no evidence against her, there must be a reason for her to be arrested in this way and the only one that could be produced, beyond there having been a rather major and inexplicable mistake, is that the government doesn’t want her to be campaigning during the election,” Carlile said in May.