Punjabi-Canadian journalist Baltej Pannu could soon be free from jail after an Indian high court approved his bail application on Wednesday, according to his family.
Pannu, a former Brampton resident who still appears regularly on GTA radio and television, was arrested in Punjab in late November on charges of rape, cheating, and intimidation.
Supporters are adamant the charges against Pannu — a journalist, social activist and political satirist — are politically motivated.
“He was confident that he would get bail from the high court and he was confident in the judicial system of India,” his son Jasdeep Pannu told the Toronto Star from Surrey, B.C.
Jasdeep has not been in touch with his father since he was arrested, but said his mother, who lives in Punjab, has visited her husband regularly in jail.
The couple have lived together there for the last five years, reuniting after Pannu spent 25 years living in Canada.
She reports her husband is in good health and “very strong morally,” Jasdeep said.
He’s looking forward to a chance to speak with his father after months of being cut off.
“I have a lot of things to say and words are gong to be left,” he said. “When you talk to a person twice a day, and then you suddenly can’t talk to them for 67 days it’s a weird feeling.”
Hopes that Pannu would be released by Thursday were dashed by a slow paper work process, said his son. The family now expects he will be released early Friday.
Supporters and colleagues in the Toronto area are awaiting more details, with high hopes Pannu can return to the airwaves soon. Before his arrest, Pannu appeared six days a week on Punjabi-language radio and television programs in the GTA.
“The more clear picture will come tomorrow when we have something in hand, like on what conditions they will grant the bail,” said Ravinder Singh, who has worked with Pannu since 2014 on a radio show, on Wednesday.
Singh expects Pannu may be required to surrender his passport or check in daily at the police station under the bail conditions.
“They will try to hurt him, but in which way we’ll see tomorrow,” he added.
Pannu’s nephew, Sukhdeep Sandhu, worked with his uncle at 5aab TV, a Mississauga-based Punjabi-language channel on which Pannu made weekly appearances.
Pannu will sit-down for an interview with the broadcaster as soon as possible after his release, said Sandhu.
“He wants to thank all the supporters who raised the word to protect him, and support him,” Sandhu said.
More than 11,000 people signed a petition pushing the federal government to push for Pannu’s release and return to Canada.
Just one day after his arrest on Nov. 27, more than 3,000 people rallied for Pannu’s safe release, including Ontario NDP Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh, in the Canadian Convention Centre in Brampton.
“The presumption of innocence represents one of the hallmarks of a the criminal justice system in a free and just society and while we must take any allegation of violence against women extremely seriously, I think it is deeply concerning that a journalist with no criminal record had to wait over 2 months before securing judicial interim release,” Singh said in an email to the Star.
Supporters at the rally said Pannu is known for his outspoken allegations of corruption in Punjab, where Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, his son and two brothers-in-law hold key positions of power. They say Pannu has claimed the ruling party has close links to drug traffickers and organized crime.
In an emailed statement, Global Affairs Canada confirmed it is aware a Canadian citizen has been arrested in Punjab province and Canadian officials are providing consular assistance, but declined to comment on any personal details.
In a brief interview with the Star in December, the 35-year-old woman behind the allegations said Pannu tricked her into having sex by making her believe he intended to marry her — an action considered a form of rape in India — but declined to speak further about the situation.
“Things are really very difficult,” she said over the phone from Patiala. “These allegations are true and I don’t want to explain everything.”
– With files from Alex Ballingal and Moira Welsh