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Indian filmmaker pleads guilty, may be allowed to leave U.S. soon

Narayan Lakshman

Vijay Kumar is surviving on bread and water in prison

—Photo: AP

Indian filmmaker Vijay Kumar exits the courtroom in Houston on Wednesday.

Washington: Indian filmmaker Vijay Kumar, who was arrested at an airport in Houston for carrying brass knuckles, may be able to leave the United States within “five to seven days,” according to his lawyer. His lawyer also said that Mr. Kumar was forced to survive on bread and water for the last 20 days he had spent in jail.

Speaking to The Hindu Mr. Kumar's attorney Grant Scheiner said that at a hearing for his client Mr. Kumar pled no contest to the lesser charge of a misdemeanour and agreed to voluntarily leave the U.S. He was awarded “credit for time served,” which meant that the 20 days he spent in jail would constitute his sentence.

Regarding Mr. Kumar's condition, Mr. Scheiner said that he was “pretty upbeat,” now that there was light at the end of the tunnel, although he was disappointed that the authorities had not realised earlier that he posed no terror threat.

Also Mr. Scheiner said that Mr. Kumar had to subsist on bread and water for all 20 days of his imprisonment because he was vegetarian and the jail authorities only supplied him with meals consisting of meat and bread.

Mr. Kumar had earlier faced a more serious felony charge when he was discovered to be carrying brass knuckles packed within his checked-in baggage. While this was completely legal under federal law, federal law is not consistent with Texas law – which forbids carrying brass knuckles in any baggage or on one's person – and thus Mr. Kumar had fallen afoul of the latter.

His case was further complicated when what was described as “Jihadi literature” was found in his luggage too. Yet in an ironical twist to the tale it emerged that the material related to Mr. Kumar's plans to deliver a lecture to the Hindu Congress of America on interfaith discussion between Hindus and Muslims and the harms of terrorism.

Mr. Scheiner said that despite there being little doubt that Mr. Kumar was not in any way linked to terrorism — even the judge in the criminal case reduced his bail from $50,000 to $5,000 for that reason — his incarceration for 20 days in a Houston jail reflected “heightened suspicion after 9/11.”

While Mr. Kumar's voluntary departure from the U.S. still leaves him with the possibility of getting a U.S. visa in the future, Mr. Scheiner said that as a result of his misdemeanour conviction and visa revocation he would definitely find it harder to obtain any U.S. visa.

Providing a rare glimpse at the excessively cautious nature of the U.S. homeland security legal apparatus, Mr. Scheiner said that at Mr. Kumar's immigration hearing, the government attorney “opposed voluntary departure, citing threat to national security.”

The prosecutor did so on the grounds that the investigation of Mr. Kumar's luggage left doubt as to whether there might have been explosive residues. However, Mr. Scheiner said, the judge in the case had pointed out that the investigation of the luggage had clearly yielded a false positive test and there was no suggestion that Mr. Kumar had carried any explosives.

At the end of the case, Mr. Scheiner said it was clear that Mr. Kumar's arrest was a mistake of law, and he could have been acquitted earlier. His incarceration on the immigration charges also made him lose the will to fight on in the criminal case, and so he was left with a misdemeanour conviction.

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