30, Aug 2018 | CJP Team
More than 35 rights groups convened a press conference on Wednesday, August 29, condemning the arrests of prominent human rights activists in simultaneous multi-city raids on Tuesday, August 28. The organisations have issued a joint statement, saying that they “condemn the appalling state actions of reprisals against noted human rights activists and intellectuals, which are clearly politically motivated and an attempt to stifle voices of dissent.”
The statement says that the arrests are “ostensibly in connection with the outbreak of violence and attacks on Dalit participants of the Elgaar Parishad, a public meeting held on December 31, 2017, in Pune, to commemorate the anniversary of Bhima Koregaon,” and notes that “Some news channels are alleging that the arrests are linked to claims of an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.” The statement emphasises that the state action is “clearly a politically motivated reprisal against public spirited individuals who have tirelessly and courageously worked for the cause of the poor and marginalized sections of society, and against unjust state policies and actions, and unscrupulous corporates.”
CJP stands in solidarity with the human rights defenders targeted by a vindictive state. A healthy democracy needs voices of dissent. We also need human rights defenders and social activists to work tirelessly to uphold our shared values of equality, peace and justice. Join CJP now!
Recalling the Emergency declared in 1975, the groups say that raids and arrests “are a targeted crackdown on civil liberties and democratic rights activists across the country,” and strongly criticises the current regime for carrying them out. They say, “Such a systematic and pre-meditated crackdown on human rights activists is reminiscent of the midnight knock on the eve of the Emergency in 1975 in India, and it is a matter of immense shame that the BJP government has unleashed all its powers to do exactly the same, 43 years later!” Moreover, the statement highlights statements from police that more raids will follow, saying that these, and the raids and arrests, are “naked and concerted attempts to intimidate and stifle voices of dissent.”
The rights organisations call out unnamed media houses “who, in collusion with the state and its law enforcing authorities, have indulged in an incredible attack on these human rights activists, defaming them and profiling them as ‘Urban Naxals/ Maoists’ and calling them anti-national.” The statement labels their news bulletins as being “irresponsible and inflammatory”.
The statement notes that the Pune Police have neglected “to take any serious action against the real culprits of the violence broke out in Bhima Koregaon on January 1,” saying that this, coupled with the arbitrary arrests, “exposes the state’s real intent.” It compares the cases of Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, the two prime accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, who have been charged under sections of the Indian Penal Code, while the activists who were arrested days ago have been charged under “the much more draconian provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, which has been used as a tool to stifle political dissent and opposition.”
The groups emphasise that the UAPA “is a repressive piece of legislation that flies in the face of all democratic norms,” noting that it “empowers the government to ban ‘unlawful organisations’ and ‘terrorist organisations’ and membership of such organisations,” which carries punishment of up to life in prison. People charged under the UAPA “are denied bail for up to six months, and, as lawyers and free speech commentators have said, ‘Section 43D(5) of the UAPA is effectively a warrant for perpetual imprisonment without trial!”
The statement also points out the activists’ arrest have come during the Maharashtra ATS investigation against right-wing Hindu group Sanatan Sanstha for the murders of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M. M. Kalburgi, and Gauri Lankesh. “As the noose tightens on this organization, the arrests for the Bhima Koregaon violence are perhaps a cynical ploy to divert attention from this investigation,” the statement says.
The rights groups have outlined a list of demands, including the immediate and unconditional of the activists who were arrested this week, as well as those who were arrested in connection to the same case earlier this year, in June. They have called for the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to intervene to ensure their release and “order an immediate, transparent, effective and impartial investigation” into the raids and arrests. The organisations have also demanded that the Press Council of India and News Broadcasting Standards Authorita (NBSA) “take suo moto action to direct media houses to desist from all forms of ‘fake news’ and in particular stop this false and baseless allegations and criminalisation of human rights activists”. Moreover, they have demanded an immediate trial of Bhide and Ekbote. They have also demanded that the police desist in using the draconian UAPA against public intellectuals and human rights activists, and that it be repealed.
Signatories to the statement include the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Police Reforms Watch, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), the Trade Union Centre of India, and Amnesty International India, among others.
The complete statement can be read here: