A Greenpeace senior campaigner was “offloaded” at Delhi airport from a flight to London where she was scheduled to make a presentation before British MPs regarding alleged human rights violation at Mahan in Madhya Pradesh.
Priya Pillai of Greenpeace was stopped by immigration officials early Sunday morning. “I was told by the immigration officer that I couldn’t fly out of the country, even though I had a valid six-month visa. When I asked him why, he refused to give me a reason. Upon insisting, he took me to his senior officer, who in turn told me that I was on a database issued by the Government of India of individuals who can’t fly out of the country,” Pillai said.
She said she was scheduled to make a presentation to the Indo-British All-Party Parliamentary Group regarding her campaign with local communities in Mahan.
“I was supposed to make the presentation on January 14. The group is headed by Labour Party MP Virendra Kumar Sharma and I was told that members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples would also be coming,” she said.
“I want to know about this list that I am on. Who else is on it? On what criteria? Have I been clubbed together with drug peddlers and smugglers? This government can’t treat people who disagree with their viewpoint like this. I believe that decentralized renewable energy is the way forward for development. But I can’t be targeted by the government like this,” Pillai said.
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She claimed she was one of many environmental activists who had been detained by the police after protesting in January 2014. “We had been granted bail and the case is going on at Mumbai. But I was not told about any condition to the bail regarding restrictions of movement,” she said.
Pillai said she was told by airport authorities that she was now banned from leaving India and her passport has been stamped with the word: Offload. She said this wasn’t the first time a Greenpeace campaigner has had problems and recalled that in September 2014, Ben Hargreaves, a UK national was refused entry to India, despite having a valid visa. “He had a valid work visa and he was in charge of social media. But after he arrived in India, he was deported and made to take the next plane back,” she said.
The incident comes a few months after the blocking of funds to Greenpeace by the Home Ministry. Greenpeace India’s Executive Director, Samit Aich in the statement said, “The government’s intentions are clear. They are trying to intimidate and bully Greenpeace and its employees but I would only reiterate that such acts only make us more resolute to continue our campaigns on protecting Indian people and India’s environment. We will not shy away from asking tough questions to the highest authorities.”
Greenpeace India has written to the Ministry of Home and External Affairs and to the Airport Authority of India asking the government to explain the legal basis for the ban on Pillai leaving the country, the statement said.
There was no official comment from immigration officials but one claimed “she was short of documents”.