Two days after Kashmir Dispatch investigations revealed that a Russian woman, Bonetekia Zoia, was sentenced to one-year in prison after being arrested for not keeping travel documents during an annual Hindu pilgrimage in this conflict-torn region, her husband, Alexander Rekh, based in Leningrad wrote to us. Here is his e-mail, published in the form of an open letter as he wished.
Here is the Open Letter:
I am the husband of Bonetekia Zoia and I am writing to you from Russia. For four months we anxiously followed her case. The events described in your article were quite different. It is true that she really wanted to make a pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave Shrine in Indian-administered Kashmir. And she really lost her passport along with the visa while in Nepal.
But she didn’t cross the Nepal-India border illegally! She crossed it after acquiring perfect legal document issued at the tourist office in Nepal. This document “magically” disappeared when she was arrested by the police in Kashmir in August, this year.
All the rest is not true. She had discussed this herself in the court, and made a confession at trial, believing the promises that the case will be closed immediately and she will return home to her children. She is the mother of two beautiful children and they are waiting for her at home.
Zoia is a lovely person. She has many friends, who love and respect her. She is a creative person. She draws beautifully and writes wonderful poems.
She is not a terrorist, not a murderer or a thief. All she cares about is her path to God. On the day of her arrest, she was saving herself from the harsh weather under the bridge. Her fault is that she’s a foreigner; the fact that she’s a white woman.
Her fault was that on her way to God, she decided to do away with intermediaries in the form of local authorities; permits, certificates, fees, tariffs, monetary fees and so on. Just for that she was beaten by police during the arrest. For her indomitable will to seek God’s path, she has already suffered beatings and humiliation from prison personnel and inmates. That’s why in prison, they slip tranquilizers into her food. That is why she was deprived of a legal right to a phone the Russian Embassy in New Delhi. Why was she denied basic legal right; because she’s a white Russian woman?
Is this the famous Kashmir hospitality?
Ten years ago we first came to India, and loved the country. Back then, in Srinagar, we had a honeymoon. Our son was born in the Himalayas. And now in order to get at the truth and basic rights, she has to go on hunger strike in the Central Jail.
It is in fact that she not a trespasser; she is not the violator of established rules and restrictions. She is a prisoner of conscience. We think her case is fabricated. We believe the result of her hearing is flawed. We believe the court decision is farce. We believe the sentence is too harsh.
We will fight for the rights and freedom of Zoia!
I ask you to publish my letter so that it is read by the entire progressive community, and the government– which we hope would take notice and deliver justice to her and our children.
Sincerely, and with hope of being understood,
From Russia with love.