A US court on Tuesday ordered Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, the Kashmir lobbyist accused of being an ISI agent, to be released from jail but put him in house detention under round-the-clock electronic surveillance pending trial.
Fai will also sign a personal bond of $100,000 and will have no contacts with foreign government functionaries unless accompanied by his lawyers. He cannot leave the US. He will wear a GPS enabled bracelet around an ankle for tracking.
Fai and his supporters took this as proof of his innocence. That judge John Andersen the court disregarded prosecutor Gordon Kromberg's plea to keep Fai in jail, and set him free to go home, though with several restrictive conditions.
The diminutive activist turned to his supporters in the courtroom with a triumphal wave and his wife burst out of the courtroom announcing a celebratory dinner for everyone. She is said to be of Chinese descent, but refused to give her name.
"I am very proud of him," she said.
Fai might be released on Wednesday, said his lawyer Nina Ginsberg.
Fai was arrested by FBI agents outside his home in Fairfax, Virginia on the morning of July 18. He is accused of acting as an agent of Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, and making false statements.
Kromberg said in court that immediately after his arrest, Fai had admitted to working with the ISI for the last 15 years and that his budgets were partially or wholly approved by the agency.
Fai ran a Washington-based non-profit organization called the Kashmiri American Council - better known as the Kashmir center - for decades using, said an FBI affidavit, money routed to him through the hawala network by the ISI.
"Fai has led a life of lies," said Kromberg in court while arguing for the accused to be kept in jail. His council board members didn't know he was taking money from the ISI and nor did US politicians lobbied by him.
The high-flying Kashmiri activist donated generously to the campaign of some US lawmakers, some of whom have since his arrest announced they were giving away a sum of money equal to the donations to charity.
Fai also invited Indian journalists and politicians to these conferences funded by his ISI supplied money to give his plainly partisan campaign a non-partisan look. And that fact was used by his defense team to argue for his release.
"He also called pro-India speakers and presented all sides of the argument," said Khurram Wahid, the second lawyer on Fai's defense team. He then went to on argue that his client didn't always take the ISI line put out to him.
Fai demanded self-determination in Kashmir whereas Pakistan staked a claim to Kashmir as a part of itself, said Wahid.
To this FBI special agent Sarah Linden said Pakistan politician are known to supported both stands and that the ISI had indeed put out the self-determination line too. And Fai ran with it, as instructed.
The point the defense team was making was this: even if Fai took money from the ISI as charged by the FBI he did not always do as instructed and therefore, he was not acting as an agent of Pakistan.
What next for Fai and the case?
- Fai might be released on Wednesday if the pre-trial services have it all tied up
- Nothing very much happens for the next month or two, as the defense team has waived the mandatory time period of 30 days for the prosecution to bring an indictment
- Both the defense and prosecution will study the evidence in hand. The prosecution can bring fresh charges - to add to the existing two
- Fai remains in home detention until then, unless the court orders him back into jail for violating bond conditions
- Can he resume his activities? Possibly from home, as long as he stays away from functionaries of a foreign government