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India summons German diplomat over Kejriwal arrest comments

March 23, 2024

India's government has responded with anger to remarks from Berlin following the arrest of opposition leader Arvind Kejriwal. The arrest has triggered protests in New Delhi as elections draw nearer.

Delhi's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal speaks during a public rally
Arvind Kejriwal was arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes from liquor contractorsImage: BIJU BORO/AFP/Getty Images

India summoned the German embassy's deputy chief of mission, Georg Enzweiler, on Saturday to convey "strong protest" following remarks made by German officials regarding the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal, an Indian opposition leader, last week.

Kejriwal, a senior official in the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man's Party, or AAP) and chief minister of Delhi's capital territory, was arrested Thursday night on corruption charges — just a month ahead of national elections.

The federal Enforcement Directorate agency accused Kejriwal's party and ministers of accepting 1 billion rupees ($12 million) in bribes from liquor contractors.  The agency is controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

Top opposition figure arrested in India ahead of elections

Asked about the arrest and the charges, which Kejriwal and his party reject, a spokesperson for Germany's foreign office said Berlin had taken note of the situation.

"We assume and expect that the standards relating to independence of judiciary and basic democratic principles will also be applied in this case," said Sebastian Fischer at a press conference on Friday, adding that Kejriwal is entitled to a fair and impartial trial like anybody else.

India accuses Germany of 'biased assumptions'

Commenting on the Berlin's stance, India's Ministry of External Affairs said the remarks were "interfering in our judicial process and undermining the independence of our judiciary."

Describing India as "a vibrant and robust democracy with rule of law," it added: "Biased assumptions made on this account are most unwarranted."

India and Germany generally share healthy relations, and the two countries have recently been drawing closer together on strategic issues such as defense technology.

Anti-Modi protests continue in Delhi

Saturday's diplomatic spat came as hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Delhi for a second day, demanding Kejriwal's release and chanting "Kejriwal is Modi's doom!" and "Dictatorship won't be tolerated!"

They accuse Modi of governing the country under a state of emergency and using federal law enforcement agencies to stifle opposition parties before the election.

"[Kejriwal's arrest] is a murder of democracy," Balbir Singh, health minister of Punjab told the AP news agency. "For opposition leaders, jail is the rule and bail is the exception," he added, accusing Modi's ruling party of "turning the rule of law upside down."

On Friday, hundreds of AAP supporters and some senior party leaders clashed with police. Some demonstrators tried to carry the protest into central Delhi, but police, some in riot gear, prevented them from doing so. At least three dozen protesters were detained. 

Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party denies targeting the opposition and says law enforcement agencies act independently.

mf/dj (AP, Reuters)