The denial of permission to Amnesty International India chair Aakar Patel to travel abroad was illegal and reprehensible, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Patel was stopped from travelling to the United States from the Bengaluru airport. In a series of tweets, he had said he was informed by immigration officials that he had been put on the exit control list by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

This happened even though he got his passport back through a court order specifically for the trip to the United States between March 1 and May 30.

On Thursday, a Delhi court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to immediately withdraw the look out circular issued against him.

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a human rights body, accused the Union government of “arbitrarily and capriciously” abusing its power to block Patel from a scheduled visit abroad. The organisation noted that the former Amnesty India chief had deposited Rs 2 lakh with a court in Gujarat’s Surat city as a condition for permission to travel to the United States.

“It should be pointed out that the Government did not disclose before the appropriate court which legally permitted Aakar to travel, that there was a travel ban by virtue of an existing CBI case,” the human rights body said. “It is in this background that the actions of the Government [to] block Aakar Patel from travelling is illegal and reprehensible.”

The organisation said that the Central Bureau of Investigation circular lacked any statutory or legal basis and described it as “a misuse of executive power” to impose what was in effect a travel ban.

“The action of the Government of India is nothing but vengeful and spiteful as Aakar Patel has been a trenchant and strong critic of the ruling BJP government and has exposed and opposed its anti-democratic, unconstitutional an anti-people policies, laws and actions,” the People’s Union for Civil Liberties said.

The human rights organisation also said that the Enforcement Directorate abused power when it stopped journalist Rana Ayyub from leaving the country on March 29 based on a lookout circular against her.

On Monday, the Delhi High Court allowed Ayyub to leave for London, after she challenged the agency’s look out notice sent to her in connection with a money laundering case.

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties said that by acting against Patel and Ayyub, the Enforcement Directorate had targeted “articulate, expressive and well informed critics” of the central government.

“In effect, by not allowing dissent its rightful constitutional place, the government is proving its critics right, namely that the Central Government is so intolerant of criticism that it will not shy away from brazenly abusing the various instrumentalities at its disposal, from the ED to the CBI, to prevent its critics from speaking out,” it said.