27th April 2017:
Forty five year old Cameroonian national, Sergelain Alain Betegue flew home to a new life and freedom after five years in an Indian jail.
During transit at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, en-route to Yaoundé, Mr. Betegue hugged Mrinal Sharma, Program Officer with the Access to Justice (Prison Reform) Programme of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) - the person who he singularly credited with the success of the campaign to free him.
Ms. Sharma, however, said that CHRI along with the Ministry of External Affairs, the Rajasthan government and the Cameroonian government all came together in a unique alliance to enable the Cameroonian to go home.
“I had lost all hope” he said, adding that at his lowest point CHRI intervened after being informed by a local lawyer of his situation. He underwent trial before being convicted in 2015 for committing forgery. But the period served by him as an undertrial in prison was set off against his final sentence.
CHRI pursued Betegue’s case for six months, getting help from the Superintendent of Police, Alwar, the State Special Branch officers, while maintaining close contact with the West Africa division of the Ministry of External Affairs.
“Placed in a larger setting, foreign prisoners who are detained beyond completing their sentence may seem like a small problem, but it is a significant one. If the government made its job easier by taking interest in these individuals and ensuring they do not overstay their sentences, it would ensure timely return of prisoners and take a burden off the prison system", asserted Ms. Sharma.
CHRI Director, Sanjoy Hazarika says that such interventions highlight the challenges facing foreign nationals in custody in India. “Civil society groups driven by their commitment to justice, are uniquely placed to bring stakeholders together to make happy ending actually happen, as in the Betegue case”, he added.