Roshan Jamal Khan, who was recently freed from a Spanish jail, recounts the indifference shown by Indian authorities
It was 4 am by this time, Khan was tired, and he had to reach his home in Mumbai to meet his family for the first time in six years. But no further travel arrangements, from Delhi to Mumbai, had been made. He had to borrow a cellphone to wake up one of his sons to book a ticket for him.
“But, you know what?” Khan asks, “I wasn’t surprised one bit.”
Khan was arrested from a mosque in Barcelona in 2008, just four months after he had moved to the city to explore a business of olive oil exports. An informant, named F1 in court proceedings, had claimed that the people praying at the mosque that day were a group of terrorists planning to bomb the Barcelona Metro. In all, eleven individuals, 10 Pakistani nationals and Khan, were charged with being members of a terrorist organisation, and plotting a terror attack. Khan was handed a sentence of eight and a half years. Two years later, the sentence was commuted by the Spanish Supreme Court to six years, and the charge of conspiring to stage a terror attack was dropped. Khan claims to be innocent and says their arrests were a result of increasing Islamophobia in European countries.
“All I remember about the day of the arrest was a large noise at the door of the mosque, and a group of men with their faces covered, brandishing guns,” Khan says. They were taken to a prison and told that they had been arrested for planning terrorist attacks. Within five days, before they were taken to court for the first time, the Pakistani embassy had gotten in touch with the 10 Pakistani nationals. The Indian embassy, however, Khan claims, did not. “I waited for them. My wife [in Mumbai] phoned and wrote them letters, but no one showed up,” he says, “None of the authorities in the jail and court whom we dealt with knew how to speak Hindi or English. While the Pakistani embassy helped their nationals with an interpreter, I had none.”
His brother-in-law who lives in Spain, along with the relatives of the other ten accused, pooled in money to arrange the services of a local lawyer. “He spoke a bit of English, and he died a few months later. His son [also a lawyer] then took up our case,” Khan recalls. About two months after he was arrested, two individuals, a man and a woman, from the Indian embassy finally showed up. “The man said, ‘Why didn’t you inform us earlier? We just learnt about it from your wife.’ My wife had being trying to reach them from the day of my arrest. And when they finally showed up, they began with a lie. It really put me off.” According to Khan, the woman repeatedly asked him if he had been to Pakistan. “It was almost like she thought she would be able to catch me off guard, and I would blurt out a ‘yes’.”
Over the next six years, different people from the Indian embassy visited him occasionally. “Initially, they grilled me on my past. Later, I could tell, none of them was really interested in my case. Their presence was a formality. They were not interested in helping me legally, nor were they worried about my health,” he says.
Since Khan speaks very little Spanish, his communication with the prison authorities and inmates was minimal. “To be arrested for something you are not involved in makes you really bitter. And worse, I could hardly speak with anyone. I was extremely lonely, bitter and disturbed. I would call home, but that would make me feel miserable. I would hear things like one of my sons discontinuing studies to support the family by working at a call centre. Those whom I could meet and speak to, like the embassy officials, were simply not interested,” he says.
Khan has moved the European Court of Human Rights in France, appealing against what he terms a ‘wrongful’ conviction in a Spanish court, and expects a ruling by this year. He says, “Perhaps, I will get a favourable ruling and the Spanish system will be held accountable. But what about those who were supposed to help me? Shouldn’t they also be made answerable?”