Washington, April 5:
Two US lawmakers asked Secretary of State John Kerry to demand India to release a New York police officer after a tabloid termed his arrest as New Delhi’s revenge for the Khobragade affair.
Harlem Police Officer Manny Encarnacion, “who had accidentally left three bullets in the pocket of a jacket in his checked luggage” was arrested when he flew to New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport March 10, for a vacation with his wife Vida, according to the New York Post.
By Post’s account a security officer at the airport snarked, “You guys like to strip-search our diplomats,” as Encarnacion was arrested on felony charges under India’s Arms Act of 1959 – punishable by anywhere from three to seven years.
The officer’s remark was a clear reference to the Dec 12 arrest and strip search of Devyani Khobragade, India’s then deputy consul general in New York “over visa fraud”, the newspaper suggested.
However, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf Friday declined to comment “because of privacy considerations” beyond saying that it was “aware of the reports, obviously, that a US citizen has been arrested”.
Asked if the US was afraid that the arrested person will “face any kind of retribution from the way that the Indian diplomat was treated” in the US, she repeated, “I just can’t speak to this specific case” because of “privacy considerations”.
“But obviously, we’ve said we want to get past some of the tensions that have been there over the past several months and move on,” Harf said adding, “I think we feel like we’ve moved past this and hope the Indians have as well.”
Asked if India has shown that they can be trusted, the spokesperson said: “India is a very close partner. Yes, absolutely.”
However the lawmakers were less circumspect. “I would hope that India, a country that we have a good relationship with, would not stoop to the petty level of making a political pawn of this decorated NYPD cop and veteran,” Senator Charles Schumer was quoted as saying by the Post.
“I’ve asked the State Department to get deeply involved here and ensure Officer Encarnacion gets swift and just due process,” Schumer said Friday. “Anything less is unacceptable.”
House member Peter King, according to the Post, called the arrest “outrageous” and said he, too, has sent a letter to Kerry.
“This excessive act by the Indian government is clearly politically motivated in response to the arrest of India’s then-deputy consul general in December 2013 in New York for alleged visa fraud,” King wrote to Kerry.
“It is critical that the State Department intervene,” he wrote.
Encarnacion has been barred from leaving India until his next court date, April 19, the Post said.
According to the Post, news of the arrest left New York Mayor Bill de Blasio “troubled” while Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said his department is “staying very engaged with that issue in India”.
The Post also cited Encarnacion’s lawyer, Samarjit Gajendra Pattnaik, as saying in New Delhi Friday that the cop remains optimistic that the charges against him will be dropped.