A Delhi court on Wednesday sought response from the Central Bureau of Investigation on a plea moved by Aakar Patel, the chair of human rights watchdog Amnesty International India, challenging the look out circular issued against him by the federal agency, Bar and Bench reported.

Advocate Tanveer Ahmed Mir, appearing for Patel, sought suspension of the look out notice.

Additional Chief Magistrate Pawan Kumar questioned the issuance of the notice by the Central Bureau of Investigation, Live Law reported.

“Being a public officer, we all have to justify our acts,” the court said. “Can’t do it on whims and fancies.”

On Wednesday, Patel said that he was stopped from travelling to the United States from the Bengaluru airport.

In a series of tweets, he said that immigration officials informed him that the Central Bureau of Investigation has put him on the exit control list, which prevents a citizen from leaving a country.

An officer attached to the federal agency told Patel that he was on the lookout circular in connection with a case “the Modi government has filed against Amnesty International India”.

Amnesty International India has been accused of money laundering and criminal conspiracy in a case filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Patel said that a Gujarat court had granted him permission to travel to the US after his passport was impounded when a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA in Surat filed a case against him.

The court’s ruling shared by Patel on Twitter showed that the judge had ordered his passport to be returned and allowed him to travel to the US between March 1 and May 30.

Patel was scheduled to go to the US to give lectures at Michigan University, Berkley University and New York University.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Patel’s counsel argued that his client was not informed about the lookout circular until he was to leave for the US, Bar and Bench reported.

“The applicant suffered the value of his tickets and his immediate programme as well on account of the arbitrary and absolute illegal actions on part of the investigating authorities,” Patel said in his plea.

Patel’s counsel also mentioned Rana Ayyub’s case, in which a look out circular issued by the Enforcement Directorate against the journalist in a case of alleged money laundering had been dismissed by the Delhi High Court, Live Law reported.

Ayyub, an outspoken critic of the Modi government and columnist for The Washington Post, was on March 29 stopped at the Mumbai airport from boarding a flight to London. Ayyub had said that she publicised her trips on social media but the Enforcement Directorate issued summons via email an hour after she reached the airport.

The judge sought the Central Bureau of Investigation’s response on Patel’s plea on Thursday. The matter will be heard at 11 am.

Amnesty condemns action against Patel

Meanwhile, Amnesty International issued a statement on Wednesday asking the authorities to “revoke arbitrary travel ban” on Patel.

“Denying Aakar’s right to freedom of movement to prevent him from exercising his freedom of expression is an alarming manifestation of the Indian government’s mounting crackdown on human rights defenders and activists,” said Kyle Ward, deputy secretary general of Amnesty International.

Ward said it has become a routine for human rights activists in India to work “in a climate of harassment, intimidation, interference and constant surveillance”.

The statement added that Amnesty International had come under the scanner of the investigating agencies for “speaking truth to power”.

Imposing travel bans on human rights activists in India is also not new, it added.

“In the last few years, many human rights activists and journalists have been banned at the last moment from attending international conferences and UN events on the human rights situation in India,” Ward said. “This incessant witch-hunt is contrary to India’s international human rights obligations and reflects poorly on its role as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.”