INDIAN ACTRESS Monica Bedi has announced she will appeal to the head of the United Nations’ Refugee Agency, former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres, to be given refugee status in Portugal on humanitarian grounds.
Bedi was arrested, together with her partner, the alleged terrorist Abu Salem, in September 2002, after it was discovered they were travelling with false passports. Indian police accuse Abu Salem of involvement in bomb attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) in 1993, which killed more than 250 people and left 1,000 injured. He has also been linked to various other cases of extortion, murder and kidnapping.
Lawyer Luís Belo Morais says Bedi wishes to avoid extradition to India at all costs. “My client is frightened of being persecuted and humiliated because of her connection to Abu Salem,” he revealed. Morais added that he would explain to the UN High Commission for Refugees that Bedi has nothing to do with the crimes of which she is accused: “She cannot be linked to any criminal organisation. She has never been involved in terrorist acts and she has never committed a murder. All she did was to agree, out of love for a man she trusted, to use a forged passport to come to a country where she was aiming to begin a new life.”
Bedi’s lawyer says that Guterres is aware that the actress has already served two years in prison. “In spite of this, she is still in detention because of the extradition process demanded by India. In addition to Guterres – a person who always fought for human dignity – we will also approach the UN High Commission in Brussels in order to seek refugee status for her.”
Morais says his client faces great danger if she returns to India. “Abu Salem was linked to an attack in which many Hindus died, even though he has assured authorities that he had no link to the case. The simple fact that Monica Bedi had a relationship with him will lead the Hindu population to try to seek vengeance against her.”
India has made repeated requests for the couple’s extradition. The Portuguese Constitutional Court recently announced it was favourably disposed to the extradition request in the light of assurances from former deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani, that Salem would be spared the death sentence on his return.