The family of a British man jailed in India for allegedly breaching coronavirus laws say he’s being targeted because he’s Muslim and are campaigning to bring him home.
Sohail Hughes, 29, from Dewsbury, has been detained in Bhopal since March, accused of spreading coronavirus and violating visa regulations.
He had been on an extended holiday to visit family in the Gujarat region and mosques. But his family say he had to seek refuge in a mosque when lockdown was announced in India on March 24 because the government gave the public only four hours to get to where they needed to go before all public transport was stopped.
This left foreigners, such as those stranded in yoga centres, temples and other such places with nowhere else to go.
Hughes had his passport seized before being kept in quarantine for more than a month inside a hostel. While in quarantine Hughes has been repeatedly tested for COVID-19 and has always been negative.
In a petition signed by over 25,000 people his family said: “Sohail was offered two flights home on separate occasions but his passport was seized by the local police and he was put into quarantine not once but twice and was kept in quarantine for 35 days even though he tested negative. He had a court hearing last Thursday which was dismissed and his bail was rejected and has now been kept in a detention centre till another court accepts the case.
“Why? All because he is Muslim? It feels like a direct attack on his faith! He is British! He pays his taxes! He needs the people in power to help!”
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Hughes’s family is urging the British Government “to step up and do something about” his situation as he is a “British Citizen stranded and treated unfairly abroad.”
His bail application was rejected last Thursday and he is now being kept in the Old Central Jail in Madhya Pradesh city.
“We have been left devastated by his treatment. At least when he was in the hostel, in quarantine, we could speak with him but since he has been in jail there has been no contact and we have no idea when he will be able to speak to us again or anything about his next court date. We are so worried about him,” his sister Aatika told The Guardian.
In recent weeks, social media and WhatsApp groups have been flooded by calls for social and economic boycotts of Muslims and there have been numerous physical attacks on Muslims amid falsehoods accusing them of spreading the virus deliberately.
It all started after the Indian authorities announced that they found a large number of coronavirus cases among Muslims who had attended a mass religious congregation in Delhi, organised by Tablighi Jamaat.
In December 2019, the Modi administration achieved passage of the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which for the first time in India makes religion a basis for granting citizenship. In India’s northeastern state of Assam, such a citizenship verification process has already excluded nearly two million people.