Indian docu filmmaker behind bars in US awaits resolution of case

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Saturday, September 4, 2010, 19:29
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Indian documentary filmmaker Vijay Kumar, who was arrested in Houston a few days ago for allegedly possessing jihadi literature and brass knuckles in his checked baggage, will have to stay behind bars without bail.

However, it has been clarified that he can leave “voluntarily” if his case is resolved within 120 days.

Forty-year-old Kumar had been arrested in Houston, Texas. Kumar says that the brass knuckles are what he usually carries with him for protection and he had misread the travel instructions which forbade weapons of this kind in carry-on luggage in the state of Texas. Under federal law, it is legal to carry items like brass knuckles in checked-in baggage, but the state of Texas prohibits it in carry-on baggage.

Kumar, a resident of Mumbai, was on his way to Canada when he was detained at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Airport officials said that he was acting suspiciously, which caused them to examine his luggage. The search revealed a pair of brass knuckles, jihadi literature, and $10,000 in undeclared cash in his carry-on bag.

Usually, an oversight of this sort on the part of the passenger has authorities confiscating the item and allowing the passenger to continue his trip. What seems to worked against Kumar is the fact that that he had some books with him about Islam, manufacture of military weapons and espionage. Kumar is reportedly visiting the US on the invitation of the Hindu Congress to address an interfaith meeting between Hindus and Muslims on the dangers of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, and this is why he was carrying books on this subject.

In an unfortunate turn of legal events, Kumar now has a criminal case as well as an immigration case against him. After his initial arrest, Vijay Kumar got out on bail on August 23. He had surrendered his passport to Harris County officials as part of the conditions set for receiving bail. After his release, Kumar’s visa was revoked; following which he was detained by officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement for not having a visa or a passport. Officials did not explain why the visa was revoked.

At the immigration hearing, the judge ruled that Kumar would not be granted bail and that he would have to remain in police custody till the criminal case was resolved. If the case is resolved within 90 days, he will be free to leave the country voluntarily. This means that he will be able to legally come into the US in the future. If however, for some reason the case takes more than this period of time to be resolved, he will be deported, which means that he will not be able to legally enter the country again.

Vijay Kumar’s departure hinges on the outcome of the criminal case hearing which is scheduled for September 8. The charges that he faces are equivalent to a third-degree felony which carries a prison sentence of anywhere between two and ten years. Kumar’s attorney says this will be highly unlikely since this is a genuine case of the passenger misreading the instructions. He also sees a good chance of the charges being brought down to one of misdemeanor.

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