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'Innocent' pair rescued by 'angels'

Bangladeshi sculptor has seven-year Indian jail ordeal

'Innocent' pair rescued by 'angels'
Rashid Ahmed and Noor Nahar have returned to Bangladesh reporter, Dhaka

October 31, 2012

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Almost eight years after going to India on a pilgrimage, two Bangladeshis arrived back in at Dhaka on Saturday, in time for the Islamic festival Eid-ul-Azha. Prominent Bangladeshi sculptor Rashid Ahmed, 78, and his daughter-in-law Noor Nahar, 42, were released from Tihar Jail in New Delhi on Friday after serving a seven-year prison term on counterfeiting charges they say were trumped up. At his rented residence in Dhaka, Ahmed sobbed, recalling the experience. “We were locked in tiny and dirty rooms, forced to clean toilets and I became sick," he said. "In jail, I developed serious diseases like diabetes and hypertension.” According to Ahmed, the two were arrested in Dehli while traveling to Ajmer Sharif, an Islamic pilgrimage site in the Indian state of Rajasthan. “We reached Delhi on December 19 [2004] and sought a good hotel but failed. Finally, we found one, but it had some broken windows. The next morning some plain clothes policemen came and charged us for carrying 4.5 million in Indian currency. They didn't show us anything they found in our rooms and didn’t listen to us that we were not in a position to carry huge amounts of money,” said Ahmed. He says it was difficult to communicate with the Hindi-speaking policemen. “They handed us to detectives who put us in front of a court the next week. At first, the court rejected the charge sheet submitted by police and ordered them to resubmit a new one. We were kept in jail and ordered to appear again,” Ahmed said. Ahmed’s family members repeatedly tried, but were unsuccessful in attempts to help them. “Our financial position was bad, and we had to sell our house in Dhaka while we tried to save my father and sister-in-law," said Lipi Begum, Ahmed’s youngest daughter. "Every time we appealed we were allowed to meet them just for 10 minutes. Indian lawyers asked for huge fees [R1 million, US$18,551] to fight for our cause, but we had no money.” The story appeared in several Indian national dailies and was picked up by Bangladesh media, but there was no diplomatic move by Bangladeshi authorities to resolve the matter. In October 2005, the court sentenced both Ahmed and Noor to seven years in prison and a R150,000 fine or an additional 18 month sentence in lieu of payment. The seven-year term expired in October, but the pair had not yet paid the fine. An Indian journalist, Indrani Basu, and three businessmen - whom Ahmed calls ‘angels’ - started fighting for them,  paid the fine and helped the prisoners return to their home country. “The past eight years have spoiled my life and property. All I want from the government is a home to live in for the rest of my days,” Ahmed said.
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