Indian court grants bail to arrested European TV crew

JALPAIGURI (AFP) - A court in eastern India on Tuesday granted bail to three members of a European TV crew who were arrested for possessing unauthorised satellite phones during the shooting of the popular "Peking Express" reality show.

The chief judicial magistrate of West Bengal's Jalpaiguri court ordered that "interim bail" be granted to the trio after hearing arguments from the defence and the prosecution.

"We had asked for five days of remand. But the judge ordered interim bail for all three of them," public prosecutor Shanta Chatterjee said outside the packed courtroom.

The trio - from the Netherlands, Belgium and Britain - had been remanded in police custody for two days after being arrested on Saturday over the use of 22 unregistered satellite phones.

Foreigners wanting to use a satellite phone in India, a frequent target for attacks from Kashmiri, Pakistani and Maoist militants, must declare them to immigration officials.

"Peking Express" is a hit reality TV show that tracks eight couples as they backpack around Asia on a shoe-string budget. It was originally shown in the Netherlands and Belgium but has since appeared in 10 countries.

Police said the crew were shooting for the French version of the show, broadcast on the M6 channel, and were working for Belgian production company Eccho Line.

The group faces preliminary charges of "illegally possessing satellite phones and not disclosing the fact to the Indian authorities", which can carry a two-year prison term and fine upon conviction.

Police superintendent Kunal Agarwal said on Tuesday the crew had been asked "not to leave India without prior permission from the police".

The crew members, who were present in the court when the judge read out the order, had earlier talked about their ordeal through presenter Stephane Rotenberg.

Mr Rotenberg said armed guards were keeping watch at the hotel where the crew members had been staying and that their passports had been taken away.

A total of 49 foreigners travelling near the border of India and Bhutan were detained and questioned on Saturday over the phones, which are considered a national security threat.