RUTHLESS NATIONWIDE CRACKDOWN ON PEACEFUL ANTI-CAA PROTESTS
BENGALURU/NEW DELHI: 19 December 2019 2:00 pm
Central and state governments across India must stop the crackdown on peaceful protestors who are protesting against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), Amnesty India said today. Various state governments have either arrested those protesting against the Act or imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 and 149 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
“The CAA is a bigoted law that legitimises discrimination on the basis of religion. The people of the country have the right to protest against this law peacefully and express their views. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly does not only facilitate freedom of expression, but also allows public debate. However, rather than respecting, protecting and promoting this right, the Central government in Delhi and various state governments are clamping down on protestors by using repressive laws”, said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty India.
Since last week, thousands of people around the country have taken to the streets to protest against the CAA. Protestors have been routinely met with a show of force and restrictive measures that infringe their right to be seen and heard. Many have found themselves in detention and living under internet shutdowns.
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 India’s principal counter-terrorism law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. KMSS was instrumental in organising the anti-CAA protests across Assam. On Wednesday, Akhil Gogoi was sent to 10 days-long custody of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), country’s premier anti-terror agency. Two other leaders from KMSS were arrested.
Prohibitory orders have also been imposed in many parts of Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. In a press conference, Bengaluru city Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao said that there will be no permissions given to protests or agitations of any kind in the city. Several protestors, including historian and author, Ramchandra Guha were arrested for protesting in Bengaluru.
Likewise, the Uttar Pradesh police have issued notices to over 3,000 people, cautioning them to neither participate nor incite others to participate in the protests. Citing law and order issue, it tweeted, “No permission for any gathering has been given for December 19. Please do not participate. Parents are also requested to counsel their children.”
Delhi and Hyderabad Police have also denied permission for protests. Banning protests, the Hyderabad Police said, “All are advised that no permission has been given by the police for any rally, procession or any outdoor programs regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act.” In Delhi, several people, including the founder of Swaraj Abhiyan, Yogendra Yadav, have been detained for protesting at New Delhi’s Red Fort area. Internet has also been shut down in many parts of the country’s capital.
Such bans on protests have also been imposed in other parts of the country including Mumbai, Pune, Bhubaneswar, Nagpur and Bhopal. International standards underline that peaceful assembly is a right and not a privilege, guaranteed under Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party.
As described by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression in 2010, the right to freedom of expression is also a collective right that “endows social groups with the ability to seek and receive different types of information from a variety of sources and to voice their collective views. This freedom extends to mass demonstrations of various kinds. It is also a right of different peoples, who, by virtue of the effective exercise of this right, may develop, raise awareness of, and propagate their culture, language, traditions and values”.
However, instead of sending a strong signal that restrictions and heavy-handed crackdown will not be tolerated, on 16 December, India’s Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman while responding to the student protests in Delhi said, “Citizens should be wary of jihadists, Maoists and separatists getting into student activism”.
“Authorities across India must understand that a peaceful protest is a legitimate use of public space. Denying permission for peaceful protests shows an apparent disdain for the right to freedom of expression which is both misguided and dangerous. Indian courts have ruled that expression can be restricted on grounds of public order only when it involves incitement to imminent violence or disorder. The authorities must stop criminalising protest, lift disproportionate restrictions on free assembly and expression and ensure protection of all human rights,” said Avinash Kumar.
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