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India: The Union Government Crackdown during COVID-19 Pandemic Against Individuals & Civil Society Organisations - Statement by Concerned Citizens (30 April 2020)

30 April

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PRESS STATEMENT RELEASED APRIL 30, 2020

Condemning Misuse of UAPA by Union Government during COVID-19 Pandemic and Standing in Solidarity with Individuals & Civil Society Organisations Experiencing Targeted Crackdown

We, a group of activists and citizens of India, express our deep concern over the recent arrests on the false pretext that have been taking place using the regressive Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) by the Union government. When governments all over the world are fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic and trying to obliterate the Coronavirus, Modi government using the opportunity created by the lockdown is fighting dissidents and abolishing them of their fundamental rights. People are being picked up and put in jails under fictitious cases.

It all began on 17th December 2019 when Assam-based anti-corruption and Right to Information activist Akhil Gogoi was charged with sedition, intention to cause riot against national integration, punishment for criminal conspiracy and unlawful association under the amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA. He became the first person to be tried under the amended UAPA.

On 14th April 2020, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha faced arrest under UAPA by the National Investigative Agency. Several issues raised by People’s Union for Democratic Reform (PUDR) and other organisations point out the Union government’s alleged conspiracy to fabricate cases against the 11 activists who were wrongfully arrested in the Bhima Koregaon criminal case. FIRs relating to this violence have been selectively acted upon, such that the perpetrators of the violence, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote (both associated with the RSS), are still at large, while persons unrelated to the event and not named in the FIRs have been arrested and incarcerated for 18-20 months without bail. This is mainly because of their work with some of India’s most vulnerable communities, like Adivasis and Dalits. Both of them are more than 65 years old and have underlying heart ailments.

On 20th April 2020, Jammu and Kashmir police had booked Masrat Zahra, a 26-year-old internationally-acclaimed photojournalist, under Section 13 of UAPA and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code in the cyber Police Station at Srinagar. It was noted that the police statement only called her a ’Facebook user’ and not a journalist. On the same date, Delhi Police booked Jamia Millia Islamia students Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar under the UAPA, in a case related to North East Delhi riots that took place in February. They also booked former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid.

On 26th April 2020, Shifa-Ur-Rehman, the President of Jamia Millia Islamia Alumni Association and a member of Jamia Coordination Committee was again booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for alleged involvement in the North-East Delhi riots and was subsequently arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police.

Delhi Police went to AISA’s Delhi President Kawalpreet Kaur’s House on 27th April and seized her mobile phone in the name of enquiry into the Delhi communal violence. The seizure memo provided to her also cites an FIR with a slew of charges including the draconian UAPA.

Looking at all the cases together, we firmly believe that the extremely draconian and regressive amended UAPA law has been strategically put in place to exterminate both, dissent and dissidents during the lockdown period due to COVID-19 pandemic. UAPA allows the government to proscribe individuals as terrorists and permits more officers of the National Investigation Agency to probe cases. A person charged under the act can be jailed for up to seven years. While passing the law in Rajya Sabha in 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah claimed that "UAPA’s only purpose was to fight terrorism", but now it is being used as a tool for intimidating citizens and eliminating opposition being faced by the government on various of its policies.

With the help of these arrests, the Union government is trying its best to put the blame of North East Delhi riots on Anti-CAA, NRC and NPR protestors and change the narrative altogether as they did in the Bhima Koregaon case. These arrests are being made despite the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urging all states to release “every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views” on 3 April 2020.

Union government is saving the real culprits, whereas, young students, activists and coordination committee members who participated in the Anti-CAA protests in different parts of India are being wrongfully arrested. It is an engineered attempt to save indictable people affiliated to the right-wing ruling party like Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Verma, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, who are still at large.

We strongly condemn these unethical attempts being made by the Union government to change the narrative of these engineered acts of violence time and again. We stand together in solidarity with the people that are being suppressed by these regressive laws and demand their immediate release. We also request all citizens to come and stand in solidarity against the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and its targeted misuse by the State, especially during the lockdown due to COVID-19, to silence and threaten activists, students and organisations that are critical of the central government.

Signatories

A C Michael, Former Member Delhi Minorities Commission
Abha Bhaiya, social activist, Himachal
Abhishek Khandelwal, Advocate
Abuzar Choudhary, Social Activist, Anhad
Anand Mazgaonkar, Social Activist, Gujarat
Ananya Vajpeyi
Anil Chamadia, Journalist-Writer
Annie Raja, National General Secretary, NFIW
Anuradha Bhasin, journalist
Atul Sood, Professor, Economist
Battini Rao, Convenor, PADS
Bhavesh Bariya, Students Leader, Gujarat
Denzil Fernandes
Dev Desai, Social Activist, Anhad Gujarat
Dharam Hadvani, Student Leader, Gujarat
Dilip Simeon, historian
Dr Kush Kumar Singh, Khudai Khidmtgar
Dr. Indu Prakash Singh, President, Forum against Corruption & Threats (FACT)
Dr. Javed Malick, Academic
Dunu Roy, Hazards Centre
Faisal Khan, Khudai Khidmtgar
Fr. Cedric Prakash, Human Rights Defender, Gujarat
Gauhar Raza, Scientist, Poet
Githa Hariharan, Writer
Harsh Kapoor, Independent Researcher
Harsh Mander, writer, social activist
Irfan Engineer, Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism
Joe Athialy, social activist
John Dayal, journalist
Joy Sengupta, Actor
Justice BG Kolse Patil, retd
Kamal Chenoy, academic
Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA
Kripal Singh Mandloi, Khudai Khidmtgar
Leena Dabiru, Social Activist
Madhuresh Kumar, NAPM
Mahesh Pandya, Gujarat Social Watch
Mallika Sarabhai, Artist (Dancer)
Mariam Dhawale, General Secretary, AIDWA
Mario Noronha, Secretary, Federation of Catholic Associations of Archdiocese of Delhi
Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan
MMP Singh, retired academic
Nandini Rao, feminist activist
Nandini Sundar, Sociologist, Delhi
Nandita Narain, former President DUTA and FEDCUTA
Navsharan Singh, social activist
ND Jayaprakash, social activist
Noorjahan Diwan, Social Activist, Anhad , Gujarat
Pamela Philipose, journalist
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, journalist
Prabir Purkayastha, Editor, Newsclick
Prof Chaman Lal
Prof Prabhat Patnaik, economist
Prof. Hemant Shah, Economist, Gujarat
Prof. Mansi Shah, CEPT University
Prof. Navdeep Mathur, IIM Ahmedabad
Pushkar Raj , PUCL
Rakhi Sehgal, Labour Researcher and Activist
Rekha Awasthi, academic
Shabnam Hashmi, Anhad
Shashwati Mazumdar, academic
Sohail Hashmi, historian, filmmaker
Sukumar Muralidharan, journalist
Tarun Sagar, Social Worker, Anhad
Utpal Kant Anis, PhD Scholar Gujarat
Vijayan MJ, Pakistan India Peoples’ Forum for Peace & Democracy (India Chapter)
Vipin Tripathi, Sadbhav Mission
Wilfred Dcosta, Indian Social Action Forum – INSAF