A CBI court on Friday directed former Amnesty International India chief Aakar Patel to not leave the country without its permission while staying a Delhi court’s order asking the CBI director to issue a written apology to Patel for the Look Out Circular (LOC) issued by the agency that prevented him from leaving for the US two days ago.
The stay was issued by Special Judge Santosh Snehi Mann, a day after the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) asked the CBI to withdraw the LOC issued in connection with a case registered against Amnesty International India in 2019 under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. At the time, Patel headed the organisation.
Taking to Twitter on Friday, Patel said that he “will continue to stand for my rights” and that “there is absolutely no doubt” that he “will win this”.
Patel was supposed to attend an event titled ‘Using sarcasm to mobilise dissent in a nation where facts don’t matter’ at University of Michigan to kick off a series of lectures and interactions across the US. He tweeted on Friday that he will attend the Michigan event online.
On Thursday, ACMM Pawan Kumar had asked the CBI director to issue a written apology to Patel for issuing the LOC in order to “uphold public trust in the agency” and “heal his wounds”.
The judge had ruled that there was an inherent contradiction in the CBI’s position — while the agency claimed the LOC was issued as Patel was a “flight risk”, it did not arrest him while investigating the case or when the chargesheet was filed.
On Friday, the CBI moved a revision petition before the special court, submitting that their right to issue a LOC was erroneously quashed and that the ACMM passed remarks against the agency’s functioning, which must be quashed as the observations were not made on merits.
Staying the part of the order that asked the CBI director to issue a written apology, Special Judge Mann told Patel’s lawyer, Tanveer Ahmed Mir: “Ensure that your client does not do any misadventure. He is not going to leave.”
The court made the observations after the CBI submitted that Patel tried to leave the country on Thursday night, which was not disputed by Mir who submitted that the LOC had been quashed by the ACMM.
Appearing for the CBI, Special Public Prosecutor Nikhil Goel told the court that the ACMM “seems to suggest that if you are not arrested in an investigation, an LOC as a matter of rule cannot be issued”. He told the court that it would be violative of a person’s fundamental rights if the agency has to arrest somebody first to issue a LOC.
The court will hear further arguments on this revision petition on April 12.
Earlier on Friday, Mir moved a contempt petition against the CBI before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Dharmender Kumar seeking action against the CBI investigating officer for contempt of the order quashing the LOC.
Patel was first stopped from leaving for the US from Bengaluru international airport on Wednesday. His lawyers submitted that apart from a loss of Rs 3.8 lakh, Patel suffered further loss of Rs 6 lakh. The ACMM will hear this matter on April 13.
Patel’s application had stated that his lawyer had apprised the Investigating Officer Himanshu Bahuguna, who was present in court, that Patel intended to take a 12.30 am flight for a scheduled lecture at University of Michigan. The application stated that the ACMM had verbally told the CBI to extend full cooperation.
The application stated that despite the order, the IO switched off his mobile phone. It stated that the IO’s act “speaks volumes about the respondent agency in bulldozing the valuable fundamental rights of the applicant”.
The application stated that the CBI “has acted with a clear intention to harass the applicant and suffocate his fundamental rights”.
“The conduct of the respondent agency indicates that the premier investigating agency of the country does not believe in rule of law and rather seeks to vent harassment and undue persecution of the applicant instead of a fair prosecution,” the plea stated.
Patel had tweeted on Thursday night: “Have been stopped at immigration again. CBI has not taken me off their look out circular. Immigration at Bangalore airport says nobody at CBI answering their calls. Will move court again tomorrow if I have to.”
Earlier on Thursday, Patel had said that he “learned that the LOC was issued…in December 2021”. “I should have been told about the circular, but they chose not to tell me. I had not heard from the CBI since 2020, when I appeared before the agency,” he had said.