Two days after the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court quashed FIRs against 29 foreign nationals in connection with a Tablighi Jamaat gathering in Delhi amid Covid-19 restrictions in March, the men said they would be approaching the trial court to get possession of their seized passports to return to their countries.
The foreign nationals from countries such as Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Iran, Djibouti and Ghana, are currently staying at Ahmednagar in private accommodation arranged by local residents after their release from jail in June. Many of them were in jail for two months.
Most of them came to India before March 10 as part of a religious group to study Islam, they have told the high court. They have also submitted that they had informed local authorities, including the police, regarding their visit.
After the Jamaat gathering in Delhi came under the spotlight, Maharashtra Police booked foreign nationals, including these 29 men. The police have said they were propagating Islam and had violated visa and lockdown guidelines. They were booked under Epidemic Diseases Act, Foreigners Act and IPC sections pertaining to the spread of infectious diseases.
A division bench of Justice T V Nalawade and Justice M G Sewlikar Friday quashed the FIRs against them, observing that there was no evidence in connection to these charges. The court also said that during a pandemic, instead of being more sensitive towards “our guests”, they were lodged in jails.
Mensa Ismail Yusuf, 50, works as a small-time trader in Ghana. He said local authorities approached the group on March 30 about their travel history while they were staying at a mosque in Nevasa taluka of Ahmednagar. “We were kept in institutional quarantine for over two weeks. On April 17, officials came and took our phones and passports and told us that we will be taken to a hospital. But instead, we were taken to a jail,” he said.
From then till their release on June 17, Yusuf said none of them were able to contact their families back home. He added that no police officer has explained till date why they were booked. “Our phones were with the authorities and since we did not know we were being taken to jail, we could not inform our families. We requested prison authorities to allow us to speak to our family members but they said it would require the court’s permission,” said Yusuf, who is on his first visit to India.
Most of the people in the group cannot speak English and faced difficulty in communication.
He said they faced difficulties in the congested jail in Parner and due to lack of space and also ended up spending the month of Ramzan and Eid in jail. Yusuf added that the families of some of them tried to contact the consulates of their countries, but did not get any information.
Now, the group hopes they can return home soon. The state government can file an appeal before the Supreme Court against the quashing of FIRs.
Lawyers Mazhar Jahagirder and Zafar Pathan, representing the foreign nationals, said many others belonging to Tablighi Jamaat, had chosen to plead guilty and pay a fine to be able to return home sooner than wait for years for completion of the trials.
These men, however, chose to file a plea before the high court, seeking quashing of FIRs filed against them, they said. “We will now file a plea before the trial court for return of their passports. It will take some time to complete the procedures,”Pathan said.