India police detain foreign TV crew for possession of satellite phones

KOLKATA (AFP) - The Indian police have detained a group of 49 foreign nationals who were shooting a reality television show for illegally possessing satellite phones, a police official said on Sunday.

The police seized the phones from the foreigners in West Bengal state, where they were apparently shooting the European show Peking Express that documents contestants hitchhiking across countries, the official said.

Police detained the group for questioning on Saturday following a raid on a resort in the town of Chalsa, 670km north of Kolkata, said Mr Kunal Agarwal, police superintendent of Jalpaiguri district.

"Tipped off by defence intelligence, police raided a resort in Chalsa where a group of 49 foreigners were shooting a reality show and confiscated 22 satellite phones illegally sneaked into the country," Mr Agarwal told AFP.

"The foreigners included 10 from Belgium, 33 from France, two from the Netherlands and one each from England, Spain, Germany and Italy," he said.

"The foreigners along with 33 Indians were detained for interrogation," he said.

Mr Agarwal said 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.

India, which is battling an insurgency in Kashmir as well as Maoist rebels elsewhere in the country, bans the use of satellite phones without a licence - mainly for security reasons.

Islamist gunmen used mobile and satellite phones to coordinate the brazen three-day assault on Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people.

The police officer said the group, upon questioning, said it was shooting the show Peking Express to be telecast in France and had already filmed in Myanmar and Nepal before arriving in Chalsa on Friday.

Chalsa is a small town in the Indian Himalayan foothills close to the borders of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.