Aryan Khan: Son of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan denied bail in drugs case gripping India

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Aryan Khan: Son of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan denied bail in drugs case gripping India
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The bail plea of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan in connection with a cruise ship drugs bust case was rejected by a special court in Mumbai on Wednesday.

This was Mr Khan’s fourth application for bail since he was arrested by India’s top drug enforcement agency, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), 17 days ago. The bail applications of two other persons who were arrested along with Mr Khan — Arbaz Merchant and Munmun Dhamecha — have also been rejected.

An hour after Mr Khan’s bail application was rejected, his lawyers moved the Bombay High Court to challenge the lower court’s decision. The matter will likely be brought up on Thursday before Justice Nitin Sambre, according to the legal news outlet Bar and Bench.

On 2 October, NCB officials dressed in plain clothes raided a luxury cruise ship in Mumbai city. At the time, the NCB said it recovered 13g of cocaine, 21g of charas (cannabis), 22 pills of MDMA and 5g of mephedrone and Rs 130,000 (£1,260) in cash during the raid.

Mr Khan, Mr Merchant and Ms Dhamecha were reportedly apprehended for the alleged conspiracy, possession, consumption, purchase and trafficking of drugs.

Sessions court judge VV Patil, who delivered the verdict on Wednesday, had reserved his order on the 23-year-old’s bail plea on 14 October. Judge Patil will begin hearing the bail applications for 12 others accused in the drugs bust case from Thursday.

Mr Khan is currently lodged in a Mumbai jail. If he is not able to secure bail soon, before Indian courts go on Diwali vacations, his stay may be extended for a long time.

Representing the NCB, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh referred to Mr Khan’s WhatsApp chats and alleged that he has been consuming drugs regularly for three years while he was studying overseas. The NCB has asked that Mr Khan remain in custody while they investigate his alleged role in international drug trafficking.

The prosecution also argued that since 6g of charas (cannabis) was recovered from Mr Merchant, who was arrested with Mr Khan on 3 October, it indicated conscious possession on the part of the Bollywood actor’s son.

The defence refuted any ties between Mr Khan and foreign drug operations. His advocate Amit Desai added that the narcotics bureau did not provide any information about how its investigation might be impacted if Mr Khan was granted bail.

Mr Desai said that there were no messages or conversations on his client’s mobile phone about the cruise ship rave party. Further, he pointed out that no drugs were found on Mr Khan himself.

The high-profile case has dominated news headlines in India for over a fortnight now. Everything from Mr Khan’s diet in jail to allegedly incriminating WhatsApp messages has been reported on.

For instance, according to some reports, NCB officials have interpreted one such message — “Let’s have a blast” — as signalling Mr Khan’s intention to consume drugs.

However, in the absence of any concrete evidence to implicate Mr Khan in media reports so far, many in the country believe the actor’s son is being unfairly targeted.

Critics of the Indian government have pointed out that there has been near-complete silence regarding a massive shipment of heroin that was seized at a port in Gujarat on 15 September. Officials of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence seized nearly 3,000 kgs of heroin, worth an estimated £2bn, at India’s largest port, Mundra. The port is operated by Indian billionaire Gautam Adani’s Adani Group.

Indian National Congress spokesperson Dr Shama Mohamed made the comparison, pointing out that no arrests had been made in the Mundra drug case, which is also the DRI’s largest-ever seizure.

Mr Khan’s case is being compared to the arrest of Bollywood actor Rhea Chakraborty in connection with rumoured boyfriend and Hindi film actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide in 2020.

Ms Chakraborty, like Mr Khan, also faced multiple drug-related charges at the time. Then, as now, the NCB relied heavily on the accused’s text and WhatsApp messages to build its case.

No drugs were ever recovered from Ms Chakraborty, who spent 28 days in jail before she was granted bail.

National Congress Party politician Majeed Memon said Shah Rukh Khan’s celebrity has cast a grim shadow on Mr Khan’s case.

“Usually, the court does not take apprehensions of the prosecution like when they say that the accused will tamper with evidence. No accused can be detained just to be harassed,” he told News18 channel.

Several other opposition party leaders, journalists and Bollywood actors have condemned Mr Khan’s arrest.

Aam Aadmi Party member Preeti Sharma Menon said the court’s decision to reject Mr Khan’s bail was “almost unprecedented”.

“I have never seen rave party accused being denied bail in this manner,” Ms Menon said. “Today the rule and spirit of the law, or legal precedence has no relevance. Everything is political.”

Actor Twinkle Khanna said watching these proceedings was like being in an episode of Netflix’s dystopian Korean drama Squid Game.

“While his friend was apparently carrying six grams of charas, there is reportedly no evidence of possession by Aryan Khan,” Ms Khanna, who is also an author and Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar’s wife, wrote in an Instagram post on 17 October. “Yet, the young boy has been languishing in Arthur Road jail for almost two weeks now.”

Meanwhile, superstar Salman Khan has visited Shah Rukh Khan’s residence multiple times since the arrest and even postponed upcoming shoots till the matter is resolved, apparently so he can support the Khans.

Other prominent Bollywood celebrities, including veteran Shatrughan Sinha, actor Hrithik Roshan, his former wife Sussanne Khan, filmmakers Rahul Dholakia and Hansal Mehta, music composer Vishal Dadlani, and actor Kubbra Sait, have come out in support of Shah Rukh Khan and his family.

Journalist Pragya Tiwari wrote: “The Aryan Khan case has once again exposed the deep rot in our criminal justice system. It is staring us in the face and we cannot afford to look away. Neither us nor our children are safe in a system that can so easily be weaponised against a powerful superstar.”

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