Saturday, April 19, 2008

Local women denied bail, will remain in India jail for two weeks


Two Santa Barbara women who were arrested in India five days ago were denied bail yesterday by an Indian judge and ordered to remain behind bars until their next hearing in two weeks.
The women were detained by Indian authorities while attempting to board a flight near Darjeeling, India after officials discovered a clip of 9 mm bullets in a piece of baggage owned by Heather K. Bond, 37. Officials also arrested the woman’s mother, Monica Bond, 57.
The mother, daughter duo were on their way back to the United States after a month of traveling in that country.
Lawrence Bond, Monica’s husband, said a U.S. Embassy official who attended the hearing, told him the courtroom was packed with reporters and when the judge made his ruling, the audience collectively gasped.
“They’re treating them like they’re arch criminals,” he said. “That is my perception and other people’s perception.
“Certainly they were illegal. There were bullets, but they were in their possession by no fault of their own.”
He said it’s not clear whether the women have been formally charged, but The Telegraph, a daily newspaper in Calcutta, reported Tuesday that the women are being held on ammunition related charges under the Indian Arms Act. If convicted the women could be face three to seven years in prison.
Sean McGaughey, Heather Bond’s boyfriend, said the clip belongs to him and it likely ended up in the bag by accident. He said the two carry weapons when they camp in the backcountry around Santa Barbara. McGaughey said he owns a 9 mm and faxed Indian authorities the permit.
McGaughey said the ammunition passed through security at LAX and at least three other international airports before being found.
Lawrence Bond said an attorney representing his daughter and wife filed an appeal, which could be heard as early as Wednesday. He filed a declaration with the court urging the release of his loved ones, but said it appears it was ignored.
One of the reasons the women were in India, according to Lawrence Bond, was to check out the area in order to determine if it would be safe to recommend it to other travelers. He said his daughter, who graduated from San Marcos High School and once worked for the U.S. Forest Service, was planning to start a small travel agency when she returned to Santa Barbara.
In a letter to a U.S. Embassy official, Bond called this fact the ultimate “irony.”
“It is truly ironic that Monica and Heather included going to the area in large part to see first hand whether it would be some place that they would recommend to their clients in Heather’s fledgling travel agent business only to find themselves in a classical ‘Byzantine morass’, through no fault of their own,” he wrote.
Lawrence Bond, who will turn 70 next month, said he doesn’t have any plans to leave the U.S. anytime soon due to a health condition.
He said he can’t imagine this situation is playing out well with the Indian government.
“I think whoever’s pulling the strings in Darjeeling in this case is really making a grave mistake,” he said. “I just feel something really nasty is going on and I hope it’s not. I hope they consider the ramifications to their tourist industry a little bit better.”
Lawrence Bond said his daughter and wife planned the trip for three years and called it the “trip of a lifetime.”
“The last thing I told [Monica] was, ‘be careful I’m going to be a long way away,’” he said.

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