Stories of resilience: Human Rights Champions of 2022 While few managed to secure bail, many human rights warriors continue to be behind bars

26, Dec 2022 | CJP Team

Human Rights activists, who held the torch for fellow Indians in 2022 include journalists incarcerated for reporting the truth, activists who raised voices of dissent against the regime and even those who courageously fought incidents of online abuse and sexual violence. The year saw some of them being liberated from prison after unfair incarceration, while others continue to battle from within bars. Here is a detailed look at this inspiring list of warriors battling a wide spectrum of human rights. They persist, resilient against huge odds

Sajad Gul

Sajad Gul, a young Kashmiri journalist was arrested in January this year on charges of “criminal conspiracy” after he posted a video showing women shouting anti-government slogans protesting against death of Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Salim Parray. As soon as he was granted bail, he was detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and continues to remain under detention without trial. Gul had started working for The Kashmir Walla, an online news portal as a trainee journalist shortly before his arrest. He had been in the crosshairs of the administration when he had written about the alleged fake encounter of his childhood friend Imtiyaz Ahmad Kakroo. He was also falsely booked for “rioting” after he reported on a demolition drive conducted by Tehsildar Ghulam Mohammad Bhat. After reading the news report, Bhat retaliated by demolishing the fence around Gul’s home in his village, which angered other villagers who pelted stones at them. Gul and his uncles were booked for “rioting” after this incident, despite not being present at the spot.

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!

Fahad Shah

Shah is the Founder and Chief Editor of The Kashmir Walla, a digital news portal. He received the 25th Human Rights Press Award for coverage of February 2020’s Delhi riots. He has been called a “brave and honest champion of Indian journalism” by the Columbia Journalism Review and was nominated by Reporters without Borders (RSF), for 2020’s Press Freedom Award. Shah was arrested in February this year on the allegation of glorifying terrorism, spreading fake news, and inciting general public against law and order after he reported a story about a Pulwama family who claimed that their son, Inayat Mir (17), killed in encounter was innocent. After getting bail, he was charged under UAPA and the Public Safety Act as well ensuring through this multiplication of criminal complaints that he remains behind bars.

Dr Anand Teltumbde

Another reason to rejoice this year was when Professor Dr. Anand Teltumbde was granted bail by the Bombay High Court I the Bhima Koregaon case, on merits. Among the 16 accused, Teltumbde’s bail is the first bail that has been granted on merits. While the NIA made all efforts to delay Teltumbde’s release by securing a stay from the Bombay High Court, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and even reprimanded the State for employing delaying tactics, in oral remarks during the hearing. The court held that offences under section 13 (unlawful activities), 16 (terrorist act) and 18 (conspiracy) of the UAPA are not made out against him and only sections 38 (offences related to membership of a terrorist organization) and 39 (Offence relating to support given to a terrorist organization) were made out.

The case against Teltumbde is that he was the convenor of Elgar Parishad conference held on December 31, 2017 which led to clashes in Bhima Koregaon resulting in one person’s death. When the police probed further and the NIA took over the case, it was alleged that there was a conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister.

Gautam Navlakha

Civil rights activist and member of the People’s Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR), Gautam Navlakha surrendered to NIA in April 2020 in the Bhima Koregaon case. He was placed under house arrest in 2018 but was then released within 2 months, in October 2018. Since April 2020 he has been incarcerated and finally in November, his request for house arrest due to his poor health has been granted. He has now been placed under house arrest as per the Supreme Court’s directions until further orders.

Teesta Setalvad 

Human rights activist and journalist, Teesta Setalvad had her home barged in to, she was violently assaulted and then detained and later arrested by Gujarat ATS on June 25-26 2022. The “charges” were “submitting forged and fabricated evidence” in Zakia Jafri’s petition concerning the Gujarat riots of 2002. Termed as a witch-hunt by reputed human rights organisations and individuals, Setalvad has been the target victim of over 14 cases of trumped up charges especially since 2014 (the first one was in 2004). The raid by the ATS and subsequent detention and arrest came a day after a Supreme Court Judgement on the conspiracy behind the Gujarat violence of 2002. Setalvad is Secretary of the legal rights group, Citizens for Justice and Peace that has provided legal aid in this case to Zakia Jafri, the widow of the slain Congress MP who was brutally murdered at Gulberg society during the 2002 Gujarat riots, the main petitioner. The petitioners had sought re-investigation/further investigation in the charges of conspiracy made out in Jafri’s protest petition which was filed against the SIT’s closure report which had given a clean chit to the Gujarat administration, thus determining that the administration was not involved in any conspiracy behind the outbreaks of violence. Voluminous documents were presented before the Supreme Court to indicate that several documents /evidence were not examined by the SIT to explore the charge of conspiracy.

Detained on June 25, Setalvad was granted interim bail by the Supreme Court on September 2 on the grounds that she has been in custody for more than 2 months and that the investigative machinery has had the advantage of custodial interrogation for a period of 7 days

The Nun who battled gendered violence

On Friday, January 14, 2022, a Kerala court acquitted Franco Mulakkal (57), the former bishop Jalandhar who is accused of raping a nun in a Kottayam district convent, multiple times between 2014 and 2016. He was acquitted citing lack of evidence in a case that was registered by police in Kottayam in June 2018.

This case is a mark of bravery of the survivor (whose identity is protected) since she fought against a religious institution and against a person in authority, a Bishop. She remained silent at first fearing consequences for her sister who was at the same congregation, but eventually came out to ensure the Bishop is brought to book for the several times he violated her.

A group of feminist lawyers and activists, named the Sisters in Solidarity (SIS) recalled that once the nun filed the case against Franco Mulakkal, “she was immediately stripped of her responsibilities”. Since then, “the survivor and her companions have experienced harassment and hostility from the supporters of the accused” state the activists adding that after this verdict, “they have become even more vulnerable and are in danger of further victimisation. ”Other sisters in the congregation who supported the survivor also suffered consequences. Sister Lucy Kallapura was dismissed by Fransiscan Clarist Congregation (FCC). In 2018, Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, 62, who was a prime witness in this case was found dead in a church in Punjab, after he had expressed his apprehension about threat to his life.

Mohammad Zubair

Zubair, founder of AltNews, a fact checking web portal was arrested based on an FIR filed against him for hurting religious sentiments. It was alleged that by calling Mahant Bajrang Muni ‘Udasin’, Yati Narsinghanand and Swami Anand Swarup “hatemongers” on Twitter, Zubair had hurt religious sentiments. On July 20, he walked out of jail when the Supreme Court granted him bail and reprimanded the UP Police while cautioning that the exercise of power of arrest must be pursued sparingly

Sudha Bhardwaj

Social activist and lawyer, Sudha Bhardwaj finally walked out of prison in December 2021 after being incarcerated for close to 3 years in the Bhima Koregaon case. The mathematician-turned-lawyer became an activist and trade unionist as she fought for the rights of the dispossessed in Chhattisgarh. Even while in prison she attended a meeting in the jail where she proposed that legal aid lawyers should visit once in three months, meet their clients and be paid properly, reported BBC.

Khurram Parvez

Parvez is a Kashmiri rights activist and Coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD). He was arrested on November 22, 2021 and was charged under UAPA. In May 2022 a chargesheet was filed by NIA against him accusing Parvez of “running a network of over ground workers of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for furthering activities of LeT and to commit terrorist attacks in India”. He was listed in TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list of 2022.

In November, after Parvez completed a whole year in detention, 12 human rights organizations including Amnesty International, and Foundation London Story demanded Parvez’ release ad his detention is deemed to be arbitrary

Umar Khalid

Former JNU student Umar Khalid had a small win this year when he was discharged in one of the cases concerning the northeast Delhi violence of 2020. On December 3,he and Khalid Saifi were discharged by the Sessions Court in the case accusing him of stone pelting during the violence, near Chand Bagh Pulia on February 24, 2020. He was arrested on September 13, 2020 in multiple FIRs including the larger conspiracy case behind the Delhi violence. His bail plea in the conspiracy case was rejected by the Delhi High Court in October stating that there was no merit in his plea. He is currently out on one week’s temporary bail to attend the marriage of his sister.

Khalid Saifi

United Against Hate Founder, Khalid Saifi, just like Umar Khalid is one of the accused in the case alleging larger conspiracy behind the northeast Delhi violence of 2020. In April, his bail plea was rejected by the Sessions court stating that the allegation against him are prima facie true. He stand in appeal before the Delhi High Court which has reserved its judgment on December 13. It is pertinent to note that the same bench which refused bail to Khalid in October, will be pronouncing the judgement in Saifi’s bail appeal. While arguing for his bail, Saifi submitted that he was subjected to custodial violence upon his arrest and was produced before the trial court in a wheelchair with a plaster on his feet. He has been incarcerated since February 2020.

RJ Sayema

Sayema Rehman, a radio Jockey by profession was targeted by miscreants on an app called ‘Bulli bai’ which was used to auction off Muslim women. She has been braving abuses on social media and said that the perpetrators are getting bolder due to impunity. “Every single person will have to realise that they are next. I have been facing this for the last four to five years since the time I have been active on social media. I have been called names, and my pictures photoshopped. This is not new, but nothing happens to these goons and they are getting more muscle every time. There is so much impunity. What happens on social media today, spills onto the streets soon after,” the RJ told the Citizens for Justice and Peace and the Gauri Memorial Trust at an online meeting where she appealed to the majority to speak out.

“People ask me, ‘You are not a journalist, you are not an activist, why are you speaking out?’ And I look at them and say, ‘How are you silent?’ We have the responsibility. Every single human being on this earth is there to support each other. We need to stand up against every injustice that we see,” Rahman said. She is a public figure who spoke up against the injustices meted out to her, being a woman from the minority community.

Ismat Ara

Ismat Ara, a journalist, was associated with The Wire when on New Year’s Day, 2022 she was in for a rude shock. Her name featured on the ‘Bulli Bai’ app which auctioned Muslim women, using their online photos. She filed an FIR in this matter with Delhi Police, “The entire website/portal is designed to insult Muslim women and investigation is required as to there is any organised conspiracy regarding the same,” she said in her complaint. Ismat Ara won the the Laadli Award in 2021 in the web investigative story category for her reportage on the Hathras gangrape case. She currently writes for The Frontline magazine

Image Courtesy: Representational


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