Devyani Khobragade: India-US diplomat row escalates

A bulldozer removes the security barriers in front of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi 17 December 2013 Security barricades were removed from outside the US embassy in Delhi

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India has ordered a series of reprisals against the US over the arrest of one of its diplomats in New York.

Security barricades around the US embassy in Delhi have been removed and a visiting US delegation was snubbed.

Devyani Khobragade, deputy consul general, was handcuffed upon arrest last week. US officials have confirmed she was strip-searched afterwards.

She denies visa fraud and making false statements over allegations that she underpaid her Indian maid.

The maid had complained the diplomat was paying her less than the minimum stipulated under US visa requirements.

What is diplomatic immunity?

  • A form of legal immunity that ensures diplomats are exempt from prosecution under the host country's laws
  • Agreed as international law in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961)
  • Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963) a consul is afforded a variation of diplomatic immunity called consular immunity
  • It guarantees immunity from the host country's laws only with respect to acts related to consular duties

US officials say standard procedures were followed during the arrest of Ms Khobragade, who appeared in court on Friday and was freed on bail.

Ms Khobragade will challenge her arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity, her lawyer said.

The US state department said that Ms Khobragade does not have full diplomatic immunity.

It said under the UN's Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, she is immune from arrest only for crimes committed in connection with her work.

'A snub'

India's government has said it is "shocked and appalled" at the manner in which Ms Khobragade was "humiliated" in the US.

On Tuesday, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde called her treatment unacceptable. He cancelled his meeting with the senior US Congressional delegation and his office said he was busy in parliament, but media reports in India described it as a "snub" to the US.

Start Quote

Uttam Khobragade

As a father I feel hurt, our entire family is traumatised”

End Quote Uttam Khobragade Diplomat's father

The governing Congress party Vice-President, Rahul Gandhi, and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi also refused to meet the delegations.

"Refused to meet the visiting USA delegation in solidarity with our nation, protesting ill-treatment meted to our lady diplomat in USA," Mr Modi tweeted.

On Monday, the Speaker of India's parliament, Meira Kumar, and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon had also refused to meet the Congressional officials.

Mr Menon said Ms Khobragade's treatment was "despicable and barbaric".

Reports in India said American diplomats and their families in India will have airport passes withdrawn and duty free arrangements suspended.

One official said US diplomats' gay partners may also be liable to arrest for breaching Indian laws against homosexuality.

Ms Khobragade's father, Uttam, told local media the treatment of his daughter was "absolutely obnoxious".

"As a father I feel hurt, our entire family is traumatised."

Protest against the arrest of Devyani Khobragade outside the US consulate in Hyderabad in India on Monday, Dec 16, 2013 Anger has been rising in India against the alleged ill-treatment of the diplomat

Ms Khobragade, 39, was arrested last Thursday in New York and later freed on a $250,000 (£153,000) bond after pleading not guilty to the charges. Some reports in India said she was arrested while dropping her daughter at school and was handcuffed in public.

Indian media reports said she had been "subjected to a humiliating strip search and kept in a cell with drug addicts".

The US Marshals Service Office of Public Affairs confirmed on Tuesday that she had been strip-searched.

Law enforcement authorities in New York say Ms Khobragade "allegedly caused a materially false and fraudulent document to be presented, and materially false and fraudulent statements to be made, to the US Department of State in support of a visa application for an Indian national employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in New York".

State department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters at a news conference on Monday: "Diplomatic security, which is under the state department purview, followed standard procedures during her arrest."

If found guilty, Ms Khobragade faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for visa fraud and five years for making false statements.

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