Saturday, February 23, 2008

India Should Free Saul Itzhayek Now !!!! (from

I'm 'destroyed,' says Canadian imprisoned in India
CTV News ^ | 29 Jan 2008 | Paul Workman

Posted on 01/30/2008 4:11:11 AM PST by BGHater

MOTIHARI, India -- The city of Motihari shows off the worst of India. The streets are a dirty, noisy mess of people and animals, cars and rickshaws, litter, sewage and poverty. It's a heaving frontier town, in the state of Bihar, which has the distinction as India's poorest, most backward, and most lawless.
Just the same, Motihari has some history. The British writer, George Orwell was born here in 1903 (his father worked for the Indian Civil Service) and this is where Mahatma Gandhi began his "satyagraha" in 1917, his resistance to British rule, better known to Indians as the "Quest for Truth."
And Motihari is where a lonely Canadian businessman from Montreal now sits in a crowded, filthy prison, and still can't understand how he got there. His crime: entering India without a proper visa. His sentence: three years.
Saul Itzhayek is not alone, of course. He's surrounded by 1,500 other prisoners, including thieves, rapists, murderers, drug dealers and kidnappers. But he is the jail's one and only foreign inmate - ever.
When I met him in the superintendent's office, he was wearing a red T-shirt and light sweat pants. I wasn't allowed to videotape an interview, or even take his picture, and for the hour we were together, there was always one or two guards listening to our conversation.
"What are they gaining by keeping me here?" he asks. "That's one of the things that disturbs me the most."
"I'm just really heartbroken, and I want to go home."
Itzhayek has been there eight months now and has lost about 30 kilograms. Still, he seemed in good health physically. He's been separated from the rest of the prison population and has at least been allowed to buy and cook his own food.
Psychologically...well that's another matter. He's angry, tormented, and despondent.
"They've completely destroyed me inside. Financially they've killed me, and I miss my family like crazy."
For anybody who travels, his story is frightening and alarming.
'I've done nothing wrong'
Itzhayek was in Nepal on a business trip and sent a driver into India to pick up a money transfer. The Indian police stopped the driver at the border, and in turn asked Itzhayek to come into India and explain what was going on. He knew he didn't have a valid visa, but says the police offered him safe passage. When he arrived in the country, he was questioned and then charged with "violating India's sovereignty."
In a sworn statement, Itzhayek says the police demanded a bribe. He offered them 50,000 rupees, which is about $1,200, but says they wanted 500,000 rupees, and wouldn't give him time to raise the money. "Now, or forget it."
So, no bribe, no release, and ultimately - three years in prison.
"I know they're all corrupt here," he says, bitterly. "I've told them they can check my file. I've done nothing wrong in 42 years. I have two kids, and all I want to do is go home."
In all the time he's been in prison, Itzhayek has had three Canadian consular visits, and is extremely resentful and critical of the support he's received from his own government.
"They don't want to help you. You're on your own. That's what they told me."
"If this was Stephen Harper's son, I'm sure he'd be out in 24 hours."
The Canadian High Commissioner to India, David Malone, takes great exception to the criticism, and says consular officials "have been making non-stop representations on his behalf, whenever the opportunity arises."
"We're doing our best and trying very hard for Mr. Itzhayek," he told me, "But I don't want to belittle the suffering he and his family are going through, which I appreciate and respect."
Malone says India takes its border security very seriously, as well as the independence of the justice system, and that's what makes diplomatic efforts very delicate and tricky in this case: How to persuade, but not offend. How to speed things up, but not interfere.
"All of that being said, three years seems to us excessive and this is one of the issues we've been raising with the Indian government. Surely this is a very heavy sentence for a visa violation," Malone said.
The High Commissioner is a consummate diplomat. When I ask him if this is a simple case of corruption, of the police trying to shake down a Canadian with money, he answers very ... well, very diplomatically.
"There is in India a degree of corruption that is widely publicized here, the government itself discusses it. Whether that's at play in this case or not, and how, I simply don't know. But I have taken note of Mr. Itzhayek's claims."
The Itzhayek family has now engaged a very prominent Indian lawyer, who is working on a number of legal appeals, and has also approached the Indian government about a pardon. But one thing is certain: India will not be rushed or bullied into a decision.
So for now, and who knows for how much longer, Itzhayek will remain behind the high pink walls of Motihari prison, trying to survive his nightmare. He's read the Qur'an and the New Testament, the only books available in English, and says he's tough. "Not many people would be able to do this."
Even the prison superintendent is sympathetic.

"Saul is a good man," he told me. "He is not a criminal."

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