Government Of India Must Stop Using Draconian Laws Against Dissenting Voices

Amnesty International India
Bangalore / New Delhi: 22 April 2020 5:28 pm

Responding to the new reports that the Delhi Police has charged two students Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India said:

“The Government of India must stop the crackdown on dissenting voices. The use of India’s primary counter-terrorism law UAPA against two students involved in protests against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act is an extension of the crackdown on anyone who is critical of the state. A pattern is emerging of the UAPA being used as a tool to repress dissent –  further recent examples of the law being abused by the authorities include the cases of photo-journalist, Masrat Zehra, has also been charged over her social media posts from Kashmir early this week, and human rights defenders, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha who were arrested last week.

“Amnesty International India believes that these new cases under UAPA, along with previous arrests of eleven other activists in relation to the Bhima Koregaon incident, are politically motivated actions that are aimed at silencing those seeking state accountability. The Indian government seems to have failed in its obligation to protect human rights defenders, and the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

Regrettably, those who have exercised their right to peaceful assembly against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) since December 2019 have been arrested and intimidated under various repressive laws. The UAPA has been condemned by various human rights groups as being repressive and against the international human rights norms.

“The authorities must stop criminalising protest. When hard-won rights and freedoms are weakened, everyone stands to lose.”

BACKGROUND:

On 12 December 2019, the CAA was passed by the Indian Parliament and assented by the President of India. The CAA provides a path to Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, and Jains from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, excluding Muslims, thus legitimising discrimination based on religious grounds.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Parliament, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and various US senators have raised serious concerns about the CAA.

The amendments to the Citizenship Act also weaponize the National Registry of Citizenship (NRC), the National Population Register (NPR), and the Foreigners Tribunals to push minorities – particularly Muslims — towards detention and statelessness. As of now, over 1.9 million people are excluded from the NRC, a registration exercise that took place in Assam State over a period of five years.

Since December 2019, protests against CAA amendments have taken place across India.

On 12 December, Akhil Gogoi, activist and leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), a peasant rights organisation based in Assam was arrested by the Assam Police under various sections of UAPA. KMSS was instrumental in organising the anti-CAA protests across Assam. He was granted bail on 26 March, 2020.

In December 2019 in Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the police indiscriminately used firearms and less lethal weapons to disperse peaceful protesters. This led to the death of an eight-year old child who was crushed to death on 20 December 2019, and resulted in over a dozen injuries.

The police also attacked student protesters in Jamia Millia Islamia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi in December 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Students were also attacked in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) while they were protesting against the CAA in December 2019.

However, to date, no reports have been filed against police officers for using excessive force against protesters.

On 22 February, several peaceful protesters occupied a portion of the road near the Jaffrabad Metro station in north-eastern part of New Delhi. They were protesting against the CAA and NRC.

On 23 February, BJP leader Kapil Mishra made provocative speeches and gave Delhi police a three-day ultimatum to remove the protesters in Jaffrabad.

The following week of 24 February, clashes broke out. More than 50 people have been killed in the riots, including a police constable, and hundreds of others have been injured.

On 2 April, the Delhi Police had arrested Meeran Haider, a PhD student at the University of Jamia Millia Islamia and media coordinator of the Jamia Coordination Committee. Days later, Safoora Zargar, an MPhil student at the same University was arrested for allegedly obstructing the road near the Jaffrabad metro station. Both remain in detention awaiting further investigation.

Both the students, Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar, have also been charged for the offences of sedition, murder, attempt to murder, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and rioting.

The First Information Report (FIR) filed by the police also names Umar Khalid, an ex-student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, alleging he gave provocative speeches and hatched the “premeditated conspiracy” of communal violence during United States President Donald Trump’s visit to India in February.

Photo Courtesy: The Free Press Journal

For more information please contact:

Nazia Erum
Email: [email protected]