Delhi chief minister must stay in custody for another two weeks, court rules

<span>The court ruling will keep Arvind Kejriwal behind bars at a crucial time of campaigning for AAP and the opposition coalition.</span><span>Photograph: Dinesh Joshi/AP</span>
The court ruling will keep Arvind Kejriwal behind bars at a crucial time of campaigning for AAP and the opposition coalition.Photograph: Dinesh Joshi/AP

Delhi’s chief minister, a key opposition leader, must remain in custody for a further two weeks, a court has ruled, with India’s opposition parties accusing the government of “match fixing” before the country’s elections later this month.

On Monday, a court ruled that Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, could remain in judicial custody till 15 April and will be sent to Delhi’s notorious Tihar jail.

Kejriwal, who has been accused of corruption, leads the Aam Aadmi party (AAP), which has governed Delhi since 2015 and is part of an opposition alliance which have come together to fight the prime minister, Narendra Modi, and the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP).

The court ruling will keep Kejriwal behind bars at a crucial time of campaigning for AAP and the opposition coalition, just before the national elections, which will begin on 19 April when Modi will be seeking a third term in power.

Related: Arvind Kejriwal: the Delhi chief minister jailed by Modi’s government

Kejriwal was dramatically arrested from his home two weeks ago, the first time a sitting chief minister has been detained. He stands accused of being a “kingpin” of an alleged scam by his government to receive about 1bn rupees (£9.5m) from corrupt deals and kickbacks from a new alcohol licensing policy.

This is the third extension that the courts have granted to the enforcement directorate (ED), the central government agency leading the investigation, to keep Kejriwal behind bars.

Kejriwal and ministers from his party have called the case a “political conspiracy” to weaken the opposition and “crush” AAP before the elections. Several other AAP leaders have been jailed and interrogated in the same case. The AAP says he has been “falsely arrested” in a “fabricated” case.

The BJP government has denied there is any political agenda in the case against Kejriwal and has said that the ED is completely independent.

“We have not put him in jail,” Piyush Goyal, a senior BJP leader, told Indian media on Monday. “We don’t have anything to do with it. The law is catching up with the people for the wrongs they did.”

Since he was arrested, Kejriwal has been running the Delhi government from behind bars, and has vowed he will not resign.

At Monday’s hearing, the ED claimed that Kejriwal had been “uncooperative” in the investigation, and had refused to give passwords for his phone and computer. Kejriwal said he had refused to give the passwords on the ground they would give the ED access to confidential information on AAP’s election strategy and political alliances.

During the weekend, the opposition alliance, which goes by the acronym INDIA, held a collective rally in Delhi, where they alleged the BJP government was “match fixing” in the election by using tax agencies to harass opposition parties.

The main opposition Congress party has claimed millions of its party accounts were frozen as part of a central government financial investigation, preventing it from being able to campaign. During the weekend it was served with a notice to pay tens of billions in tax.

Kejriwal’s wife, Sunita Kejriwal, was among those who spoke at the rally. “Kejriwal is a lion,” she said. “They will not be able to keep him in jail for long.”

The arrest of Kejriwal and the freezing of the Congress party’s accounts attracted international condemnation over concerns it was affecting India’s election being free and fair. The US and Germany expressed concern, while the UN released a statement calling for “political and civil rights” to be protected in India. India responded by summoning American and German diplomats.

In a statement last week, Amnesty International accused the BJP government of weaponising financial and terrorism laws to go after political opponents.

The human rights group said: “The BJP led Indian government’s crackdown on peaceful dissent and opposition has now reached a crisis point.”