Calling trouble

India jailed a British Aramco executive for using a satellite phone

Fergus MacLeod, head of investor relations at Saudi Aramco, was holidaying in Uttarakhand which borders China.
Bad press. 
Bad press. 
Image: MAXIM SHEMETOV (Reuters)
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India jailed a British executive of Saudi Arabian oil giant Saudi Aramco in July for carrying an unauthorized satellite phone.

Fergus MacLeod, head of the company’s investor relations, spent a week in Jail from July 12 after being arrested from his hotel in the Himalayan state of Uttrakhand. The 62-year-old was in India for a yoga holiday but remained imprisoned till July 18, the Financial Times has reported.

Is carrying a satellite phone in India a crime?

A part of Uttrakhand’s Chamoli district lies along India’s Line of Actual Control with China.

The Uttrakhand police said MacLeod was arrested based on information that a foreign national was carrying a satellite phone in that area.

“He was arrested under sections of the Indian Telegraph Act and the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act...On July 27, the case ended after he paid a fine of Rs 1,000 [$12.12],” an Uttarakhand police officer told The Indian Express.

India banned the use of unauthorized satellite phones following the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. This includes “Thuraya, Iridium, and other such satellite phones.

Passengers arriving from abroad with satellite phones in their baggage are required to declare them and produce permissions for their use. Curiously, Macleod didn’t seem to have had any trouble bringing in his satphone to India.

Is the ban on satellite phones really effective in India?

The ban notwithstanding, authorities across India have often detained citizens and foreign nationals for possession and use of satphones.

Between January 2020 and September 2021, for instance, 476 satphone calls were made from the southern state of Karnataka alone.

Last month, a 40-year-old software engineer on his way to the US was detained at the Chennai airport for carrying one such device. In June, the Indian Coast Guard seized one from the captain of a Maldivian ship after he used it in India’s territorial waters.