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British Saudi Aramco official with banned satellite phone jailed in India, says was ‘denied’ rights

Fergus MacLeod spent week in Uttarakhand jail in July for having satellite phone near India-China border. Says was denied access to British High Commission. Police deny allegations.

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Dehradun: Fergus MacLeod, Vice-President of Investor Relations at Saudi Aramco, world’s largest oil exporter, spent a week in jail in July this year for carrying a satellite phone, banned in India, near the Indo-China border.

Three months later, MacLeod has alleged that he was “kept in communal jail with dreaded criminals and denied access to his counsel”.

“It was a frightening place and a highly traumatic experience where I was in a communal cell with long-term prisoners who had committed very serious crimes,” said McLeod, as reported by British daily Financial Times Monday. And while reports say he admitted to having been treated “relatively well during his almost week-long detention, prison authorities ignored his daily requests to contact his lawyer, the British High Commission and his family.”

The British national was arrested by Chamoli Police from his hotel in Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, a UN heritage site also known as valley of flowers, in Uttarakhand on 12 July while on a holiday with friends. The Valley of Flowers is strategically located on the Indo-China border and is part of the zone closely-monitored by the Indian forces.

MacLeod claimed he was unaware of the ban on satellite phones in India and that he had easily cleared security checks at airports twice before arriving at the reserve.

According to the Financial Times report, MacLeod was released on 18 July but was “unable to leave the country until after a July 27 court hearing, when he pleaded guilty and paid a fine of Rs 1,000”.

Uttarakhand Police and jail authorities have denied Mcleod’s allegations and said the 62-year-old was not deprived of access to British high commission, counsel or his family, and said that he was “composed” while in jail.

“He was booked and prosecuted for keeping a satellite phone which is strictly banned for foreigners in India. He should have known this before bringing it to India,” said Shweta Chaube, Superintendent of Police, Chamoli. “While in jail, he was treated according to Indian jail manual and norms, charged under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and given treatment on par with other inmates.”

Use of satellite phones by foreigners in India was banned by the government after they were used by terrorists during the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008.

Talking to ThePrint, Chamoli District Jail Superintendent Pramod Kumar Pandey said: “We frequently interacted with MacLeod. Chamoli district jail hardly has any dreaded criminals as alleged by him. It’s a known fact that criminals in hill areas are not as big as he alleged. Also, jails here are not over-crowded like those in other parts of India. I used to interact with him almost on a daily basis but he never complained about anything to me. I wonder why he’s saying this over three months later.”

“We were friendly and he shared information about his work in Britain, but never said that he was facing problems in getting access to his family, counsel or the British High Commission…. He, however, complained about why a female friend of his from New Zealand was allowed to go despite the fact that she was also with him at the time of his arrest.”

It is not the police’s responsibility to contact the British High commission or the family, said Pandey, adding that MacLeod would have been given all the help he wanted had he asked.

“He was here as per Indian law and it was not their (the jail authority’s) responsibility to contact the British High Commission. Had they contacted jail authorities, there would have been no reason to disregard their wish as a large number of prison inmates do talk online with their families,” he said.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: Quiet conviction of 26/11 mastermind Sajid Mir shows Pakistan’s flimsy terror crackdown


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