Bihar jail blasts spark calls for Canadian’s release

March 17th, 2008 - 11:27 am ICT by admin  

Toronto, March 17 (IANS) Former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler has urged the government to pressure India to free a Canadian businessman being held in a Bihar jail for visa violations. Cotler has mounted pressure after Saturday’s blasts - caused by gang rivalry - at Motihari jail in Bihar where Saul Itzhayek has been kept since his arrest nine months ago. Though the 42-year-old Canadian is safe after the explosions, his family and supporters have renewed efforts to free him through diplomatic channels.

They say they fear for his safety in future revenge attacks by a rival gang.

In a statement, Cotler said: “It (the blasts) heightens the argument for the need for an escalation” of diplomatic efforts to release Itzhayek.

His sister Sylvia, who spoke to the jailed man after the blasts, was quoted by the Canadian press as saying that her brother was “very, very afraid. He pleaded with me to get him out of there”.

She said court hearings on his bail plea were also put off Saturday.

The Montreal businessman was arrested in May while trying to enter India on an expired visa. His family says he was in Nepal on a business trip when he needed money which was wired to him at some Indian address.

They say when he sent his Nepalese driver to pick up the money in India, he (the driver) was arrested with Itzhayek’s passport. This led to his arrest.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Junior Minister Helena Guergis raised the issue with the Indian delegation at the Kampala Commonwealth Summit last year. Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier also raised the issue with his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee during their talks in New Delhi in January.

But his sister says the Canadian government is not doing enough to get her brother released. She alleges her brother was jailed because he refused to bribe the Indian jail authorities.

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