Covid-19 Pandemic: Stop Crackdown On Dissent & Protect Lives At Immediate Risk In India

As the world doubles up its efforts to curb the impact of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and protect everyone, the Government of India continues its crackdown on those who are critical of the government. Those arrested are being sent to overcrowded prisons during the pandemic.

The Indian Government has made repeated calls for solidarity and unity during this pandemic, yet, some people have been noticeably excluded from this list. The Government of India has gone so far as to prioritise the continued intimidation, harassment and imprisonment of those who exercise their right to free speech and assembly in order to stand up for the rights of others.

By using repressive laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), Sedition and the National Security Act (NSA), the Government of India is intimidating, harassing and arresting numerous journalists, activists and students. Those arrested are being sent to overcrowded prisons where they are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Prison inmates in Indore and Ahmedabad central jail have tested positive for COVID-19.

A particularly distressing arrest was that of 27-year-old Safoora Zargar, a research scholar from Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University. She was arrested on 10 April 2020 by the Delhi police for her alleged involvement in the February Delhi riots. But immediately after getting bail, the Delhi police arrested her again under UAPA and sent to Tihar jail in New Delhi, one of the most overcrowded prisons in the country. At the time of her arrest, Safoora was three months pregnant. She has been repeatedly denied access to her lawyer and her husband due to the nation-wide lockdown imposed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why has the Government of India ruthlessly arrested a pregnant woman and sent her to an overcrowded prison during a pandemic?

Safoora, in the past, had organised peaceful protests against the passing of the bigoted and discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in December 2019. Since then, there has been a pattern by the Government of India to continuously use excessive force to crackdown on those who are peacefully protesting against the law.

In April, nine Special Rapporteurs from the United Nations have expressed their concern over the reportedly excessive use of force by police and security forces in response to the anti-CAA protests.

In early April, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged countries around the world in view of the pandemic to release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views”. India has so far not released any political dissident. Instead, it continues to arrest dissenters.

Pandemic or not, there is no place for repressive laws like UAPA, Sedition and NSA in India.

These laws not only violate several international human rights standards but also circumvent fair trial guarantees available under Indian criminal law. In 2018, the conviction rate under UAPA was only 27 percent. At the end of the same year, over 93% cases remained pending in courts. Similarly, since 2016, only 7 sedition cases have seen conviction.

These repressive laws have proven to be tools of harassment and not justice.

We urge the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi to stop the ongoing crackdown on dissent in the country. We would like to remind the Prime Minister of his own statement and ask him to stop the brutal crackdown on dissenters immediately and not punish criticism that can make the country stronger.

Sign this petition to call on the Prime Minister of India to:

  1. Review the cases of pre-trial detention and immediately release all those detained under these repressive laws for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
  2. Immediately end all harassment, intimidation, and attacks against activists, students and journalists across India.
  3. Repeal repressive laws like UAPA, Sedition and NSA which are frequently used against activists, journalists, lawyers and rights defenders.