India protests detention of UP minister at US airport

Washington, April 26 (IANS) India has formally protested to the US over the brief detention of Uttar Pradesh Minister Mohammad Azam Khan at Boston airport when he arrived to take part in an event at Harvard University.

Khan, who is accompanying State Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav for the presentation of a study on the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, was detained for about 10 minutes for “further questioning” at Boston Logan International Airport Wednesday, according to Indian officials.

Once the visitors were cleared for entry by immigration, a woman officer of the US Customs and Border Protection wing of the Homeland Security took Khan to an adjacent room “for further questioning”, sources said.

Incensed, Khan is reported to have kicked up a ruckus in the Imigration area saying he was detained because he was a Muslim and sought an apology from the officer who merely said she was doing her duty. As arguments became heated, officials from the Indian consulate in New York intervened and Khan was escorted out of the airport.

In a statement issued by his personal assistant Muktinath Jha late Thursday in Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow, the minister alleged that on the pretext of frisking him homeland security officials humiliated him, and that he was targeted because he is a Muslim.

Although Azam Khan, who is the urban development and parliamentary affairs minister, would deliver a lecture at the Harvard Business School (HBS) on organising the Maha Kumbh Mela as planned, he would not participate in the lunch and dinner functions and other events, the statement added.

“The minister will officially register his protest at the HBS where he is to deliver a lecture on the successful management of Kumbh and crowd management,” his assistant told IANS.

“This is simply unacceptable,” he told his secretary over telephone.

The minister said that he would decide his future course of action after returning to India while adding that he regretted his decision to go to the US.

In Washington, Indian embassy spokesman M. Sridharan said the mission has “taken up the issue with the State Department officially and we have conveyed our serious concern.”

“We have asked them to intervene and take appropriate measures to avoid recurrence in the future.”

The Azam Khan case is the latest instance of Indian VIPs being detained at US airports. Last year, Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan was detained for over two hours by immigration officials at a New York airport.

Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was twice subjected to frisking at New York’s JFK Airport by US security officials. India’s then ambassador to the US Meera Shanker was patted down by a security agent in Mississippi in December 2010.

At the State Department, when asked to comment on the incident, spokesman Patrick Ventrell said he was “not aware of the specifics of this case” as the Department of Homeland Security has jurisdiction over airport movements inside the US.

But “I do want to underscore that we have a very important bilateral relationship with India and a very robust and thorough diplomatic exchange with our partners”, he said. “We very much value our partnership with the Government of India.”

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