On Friday, a 24-year-old Swiss tourist left Kerala with unforgettable memories of nearly six months spent in ‘God’s Own Country’. So unforgettable, that he now plans to file a case for compensation to make up for those months.
The story of Jonathan Baud has to be read to be believed — jail, bail, court, July 28-December 2, and the release.
And all this for spending a few minutes at a public meeting held near Thrissur in memory of a suspected Maoist who died in June. On the insistence of the organisers, who found a foreign face there a novelty, Baud also said a few words at the meeting: “Thank you for welcoming me, I appreciate the democracy in your country.’’ He was arrested minutes later, as he was walking towards a bus stop.
As the Kerala High Court observed last week, while quashing the chargesheet against Baud, “No doubt, continuance of this prosecution will be a sheer abuse of the legal process.”
And this is what Baud had to say, before he boarded the flight to Geneva: “Hearing my case and other cases, I feel India’s judiciary is fair. The questions the judge posed to the prosecution made me hopeful about a positive outcome.”
Contrary to what you’d expect, Baud wants to return some day. “If I don’t come back, that means the police have succeeded in driving fear into me,” he said.
His advocates, meanwhile, have confirmed that Baud would seek compensation for losing out on a semester of his International Economic History course at Paul Bairoch Institute of Economic History in Geneva. Then, there’s the mental trauma and financial loss due to a “baseless case”, and a possible appeal to the National Human Rights Commission.
The local police had tried to make a case by highlighting Baud’s self-avowed Marxist leanings and some research papers found in his possession. They also played a video of him at the function. But at the High Court, Justice P Ubaid was firm: “The prosecution does not have a clear or definite case.’’
Ironically, that video ended up working in Baud’s favour — while police said he was at the function for 15 minutes, the clipping was of just two minutes.
As Baud summed it up: “I could not find any reason why I was jailed.”
Jonathan Baud arrived in India with his friend Valerie on July 1, with a visa valid till September, and the two reached Kerala nine days later.
On July 26, while in Kozhikode, Baud came across a newspaper report about a public meeting to be held two days later in memory of Sinoj at Triprayar, near Thrissur. According to police, Sinoj was killed in a blast on June 16 at a Maoist training camp in the forests of Andhra Pradesh.
Curious to know more, Baud decided to attend the event, and subsequently spoke his two-line piece.
What followed, Baud said, was “sheer abuse of power by police.’’
He was taken to the Valappad police station in Thrissur, and grilled by officials of Kerala police, State Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau.
“I was taken into custody at 5 pm. The police continued to question me until 1 am without allowing me to even contact my friend or anyone else,’’ Baud alleged.
“About ten officials repeatedly questioned me, asking about my links with Maoists. I told them I was innocent and not connected with the Maoist movement at all. However, they kept saying that I was a foreign agitator brought to Kerala by the organisers of the meeting. I showed them a copy of my passport and bus tickets. But they did not believe me,’’ he said.
Soon, Baud came to know that he had been detained under Section 14(b) of the Foreigners Act, which pertains to violation of visa conditions, and remanded to judicial custody for 14 days. From a sub-jail in Irinjalakkuda, he was shifted to the central jail in Thrissur.
“I wept in jail and refused to meet anyone, including my friend,’’ Baud recalled.
Police questioned him again, this time with the help of a French translator. On August 7, he was released on bail by High Court, with the condition that the Swiss Embassy would furnish an undertaking that it would produce him for further proceedings, either in court or before police.
However, Baud’s lawyers, P Raveendranath and Sukumar V Oommen, claimed that Swiss Embassy officials failed to provide such an undertaking, telling them that such an act went against their country’s constitution.
According to the lawyers, they took care of Baud thereafter, helping him find a shelter in Kochi while their petition for quashing the case was being heard.
Meanwhile, Baud’s friends in Geneva started raising funds to fight his case because his parents — his father is a social worker and mother a school teacher — could not shoulder the burden alone. Baud’s mother even came to Kochi once to support her son.
According to Raveendranath, what really helped Baud in court were these facts: the meeting he attended had not been banned, and there was no case against the organisers — only the Swiss tourist was caught. As evidence, police even produced a poster about the meeting — in Malayalam — but did not book the person who wrote it.
Also, among the 61 “objects”, or documents, that were produced to substantiate the case, there was little to link Baud to Maoism — a major chunk comprised his personal belongings and literature about Marxism. There was also nothing to show that Baud was a radical or a member of any radical group in India or abroad.
As Justice Ubaid ruled: “The D-G of Prosecutions repeatedly argued that attending a meeting itself amounts to violation of visa conditions. I find no such rule prohibiting the alleged act of attending a meeting.’’
He added: “Tourists visiting Kerala can see different meetings organised by political or other groups. They cannot identify whether a meeting is organised by political, or communal or radical groups. They, out of curiosity, may just step in and view such meetings. If that is understood as a violation of visa condition, every tourist visiting Kerala will have to be prosecuted.’’
As for the video clipping, Justice Ubaid said, “What is made available to the court does not contain anything objectionable. I fail to understand on what material or on what basis police suspected that he is a radical.’’
At the end of it all, as Baud flew out on an exit permit granted by the Bureau of Immigration, N Vijayakumar, SP, Thrissur Rural, admitted that he was unable to explain why the prosecution failed.
\”We don’t know why the court was not convinced about the case. The Maoist threat has to be tackled effectively. Police have acted according to what we had learned. The court can interpret the law in different ways. Yet, we would go by what the court says,’’ he said.