Lodged at the Tihar jail for the past 31 months, they are a group of 55 foreign nationals who burnt their passports to avoid returning home.
Hailing from Pakistan, and belonging to a minority religious sect ('Gohar Shahi'), these inmates, currently lodged at sub-jails 4 and 6, have received a shot in the arm with the Delhi high court issuing a protection order, restraining the Indian government from deporting them to Pakistan.
The order would remain in force for a period of 70 days (10 weeks), beginning December 2.
Acting on a petition filed on behalf of these Pakistanis by the Mehdi Foundation International (MFI), the HC also directed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to take a decision within 42 days (six weeks) with regard to the inmates' request for naturalization (to grant full citizenship to one of foreign birth) in any other country that might be prepared to give them refugee status, in case the Indian government refuses to grant them asylum.
The MFI had requested the HC to stop the implementation of the Home Ministry's decision to withdraw cases against them and deport them. According to the MFI petition, the Pakistanis had stated their intention to stay in India and not return to Pakistan, where they feared persecution on religious grounds and 'blasphemy charges' that are punishable by life term or even execution.
"Till recently, they were a group of 67, including five kids born here. However, 12 of them went back to Pakistan with the help of the Pakistani High Commission," said Tihar Jail spokesperson Sunil Gupta.
The sect, to whom the inmates belong, considers Pakistani spiritual leader 'His Lordship' Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi, 'a divine man and the Promised Messiah of Islam, Hinduism and other faiths'.
On April 23, 2007, the inmates held a protest at Jantar Mantar and burnt their passports and tourist visas having arrived in the city from Pakistan and other countries. At the protest meet, they raised slogans against their government and burnt effigies of Pakistani leaders and Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden.
Delhi police had charged them with illegal stay in India without valid documents under provisions of the Foreigners' Act, the Indian Penal Code and Registration of Foreigners' Act.