British MP who leads Kashmir group denied entry to India

Updated February 17, 2020

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This photograph provided by Harpreet Upal, an accompanying aide of British Member of Parliament Debbie Abrahams shows Abrahams at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, on Monday. — Harpreet Upal via AP
This photograph provided by Harpreet Upal, an accompanying aide of British Member of Parliament Debbie Abrahams shows Abrahams at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, on Monday. — Harpreet Upal via AP

Indian officials denied a British lawmaker entry on Monday after she landed at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, according to an accompanying aide.

A Labour Party Member of Parliament Debbie Abrahams, who chairs a parliamentary group focused on occupied Kashmir, was unable to clear customs after the Indian visa she presented was rejected, the aide, Harpreet Upal, told The Associated Press.

According to an official statement issued by Abrahams, she was told that her e-visa, that had been issued last October and was valid until October 2020, had been rejected.

“Along with everyone else, I presented myself at the immigration desk with my documents including my e-visa, had my photograph taken and then the official looked at his screen and started shaking his head.

"Then he told me my visa was rejected, took my passport, and disappeared for about 10 minutes," she said.

“When he came back he was very rude and aggressive, shouting at me to ‘come with me'. I told him not to speak to me like that and was then taken to a cordoned off area marked as a deportee cell. He then ordered me to sit down and I refused. I didn’t know what they might do or where else they may take me, so I wanted people to see me."

She went on to explain that when the official disappeared, she contacted her sister-in-law's cousin, who contacted the British High Commission to try to find out what was going on.

“After lots of different immigration officials came to me, I tried to establish why the visa had been revoked and if I could get a visa on arrival but no one seemed to know," she said.

“Even the person who seemed to be in charge said he didn’t know and was really sorry about what had happened," she stated, adding that now she is waiting to be deported, unless the Indian government has a change of heart.

“I’m prepared to let the fact that I’ve been treated like a criminal go, and I hope they will let me visit my family and friends," she said.

Meanwhile, a government official who requested anonymity, said the lawmaker wasn't allowed to enter India because her visa wasn't valid, information the official said she had already received "in another communication sent to her".

According to the Times of India, a home ministry spokesperson in New Delhi said the British parliamentarian had been duly informed that her visa was cancelled and she arrived in Delhi despite knowing this.

Abrahams , 59, has been a member of Parliament since 2011 and was on a two-day personal trip to India, to be followed by a three-day trip to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).

In a phone interview with AP while awaiting her return flight to the UK, Abrahams said that she'd been trying to organise a visit to occupied Kashmir with the India High Commission in London since October, but had been unsuccessful. She had, however, received permission to visit AJK and was planning to fly to Islamabad later this week.

"It was implied to me that it was linked to that," Abrahams said, referring to a conversation with officials at the UK High Commission in New Delhi.

"They were also aware of the trip to Pakistan. It looks as though politics is playing a part in this action," she said.

Abrahams has been an outspoken critic of the Indian government's move last August stripping occupied Kashmir of its special status.

Shortly after, Abrahams wrote a letter to India's High Commissioner to the UK, saying the action "betrays the trust of the people" of Kashmir.

India took more than 20 foreign diplomats on a visit to occupied Kashmir last week, the second such trip Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government has organised in six months.

Access to the region remains tight, with no foreign journalists allowed.