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SC orders detainee’s release, asks Assam govt to continue probe
Spl Correspondent
 NEW DELHI, Sept 12 - The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of Sofia Khatun, who was kept in a detention centre since 2016, after noting that her parents, five brothers and husband were all Indian citizens. However, the apex court allowed the Assam government to go ahead with a full inquiry into her credentials.

A Bench headed by Justice Kurian Joseph today said she could not be detained in the Kokrajhar jail any more after the State government’s admission that her parents, brothers and husband possessed valid Indian citizenship. The court set Khatun free with the condition that she has to appear before the police station in Barpeta once every month.

Khatun was held in the detention centre since 2016 following an order of the Foreigners Tribunal. The Tribunal was not satisfied with her claims of citizenship after she was listed as D-voter and was called upon to prove her credentials. She has three daughters and a son.

Meanwhile, the Government of Assam, in its affidavit filed in response to the Supreme Court’s query, confirmed that Khatun’s relatives were Indian citizens. However, the State government also mentioned that a detailed inquiry is still warranted since she had failed to establish her link with her father due to mismatch of the name.

It further pointed out that the Foreigners Tribunal and the Gauhati High Court also rejected her citizenship claims because she never brought forth any contention regarding her brothers being Indian citizens. Therefore, the Assam government sought permission of the court to carry out a full inquiry into the matter.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for Khatun, pressed for her immediate release, citing the admissions made by the Assam government in its affidavit. Accepting Hegde’s submissions, the Bench also said the Assam government may go ahead with its inquiry, but Khatun’s liberty could not be curtailed pending its outcome since there were materials on record to show that her relatives were all Indian citizens.

Earlier, on August 22, the Supreme Court had asked the Assam government to file a report by September 5 explaining how she could be a “foreigner” if her parents, five brothers and husband were all Indian citizens.

The 50-year-old, facing deportation, has challenged the Barpeta Foreigners Tribunal and the Gauhati High Court orders that declared her a foreigner after she could not prove a link to her father, Hasan Munshi, due to a mismatch in the spelling of his name in various voter lists.

The two orders also held that she was not able to give her correct place and date of birth, which are vital to prove citizenship. But her brothers and her husband, all Indian citizens, have come out in her defence, filing affidavits in the Supreme Court.

Hearing the petition filed by Khatun, a Bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and Sanjay Kishan Kaul had asked the Assam government a series of questions: “Is it true that five brothers of the petitioner are citizens of India? Is it true that the husband of the petitioner is a citizen of India? And is it true that the father and the mother of the petitioner are citizens of India?”

“Anomalies in the spellings of names are extremely common though unfortunate occurrence and in no way are a reflection on the claims of citizenship of the petitioner,” Khatun’s petition said.

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