The Madras High Court on Monday granted two weeks to the Centre and the State government to spell out if they would allow 219 Muslim foreign nationals, who had been detained for engaging in religious propagation in violation of the conditions of their tourist visas, to fly back to their respective countries.
Justices N. Kirubakaran and V.M. Velumani accepted a request made on behalf of Assistant Solicitor General G. Karthikeyan and State Public Prosecutor A. Natarajan to grant them some time to submit a counter-affidavit to the writ petitions filed against the detention of the foreign nationals even after they were granted interim bail.
Senior counsel M. Ajmal Khan, representing the petitioners, said the Centre had issued an advisory asking State governments to act against the foreign nationals, who had come to India to attend an event organised by the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi, and had subsequently travelled to several other parts of the country.
He claimed that many States did not follow the advisory. However, Tamil Nadu implemented the advisory strictly by filing 14 FIRs against the 219 foreigners. The detainees included 53 persons from Indonesia, 17 from Malaysia, 14 from Thailand, 14 from Bangladesh, 13 from Myanmar, eight from Ethiopia, five from France, three from the Comoros, and one each from Democratic Republic of the Congo and Belgium. They were booked under provisions of the Disaster Management Act of 2005 and the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 for having allegedly spread COVID-19. They were also booked under the Foreigners Act for having violated their visa conditions.
The prosecution’s case was that they had done these things deliberately.
Referring to a recent order passed by Justice G.R. Swaminathan at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court for the release of similarly placed persons, the senior counsel insisted that the benefit be provided to the present petitioners too.
Appearing for the detainees, advocate Aasim Shehzad argued that the charge of religious propagation was absurd, since most of the foreigners hailed from non-English-speaking countries. “I really wonder in which language they would have propagated their religion here,” he said.