By Shubhomoy Chatterjee
Patna, India, Sep 16 (efe-epa).- The arrest of a former student leader in India for his alleged role in the deadly violence that shook the national capital in February has caused an outrage in the country with human rights defenders and activists on Wednesday calling it the latest in a series of a politically motivated witch-hunt by the government.
Umar Khalid, who was a student politician at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and has been critical of the government’s policies, was arrested on Monday on the allegation that he is a “conspirator” in Delhi communal riots that left more than 50 people dead and thousands displaced.
Eminent citizens, including activists and lawyers, came together at the Press Club of India in New Delhi on Wednesday to denounce the alleged criminalizing and silencing of voices of dissent by police.
They also highlighted attempts to intimidate and instill fear by arresting young people, especially those protesting against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA, which fast tracks the citizenship of persecuted non-Muslim minorities from neighboring countries.
The Indian police have arrested hundreds of protesters in a widespread crackdown to target those demonstrating against the citizenship law formed by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and cleared in by parliament in December 2019.
Critics of the law have opposed it for being discriminatory and against the secular credentials of the constitution and have expressed fear that it could be used to persecute Muslims, especially when coupled with the National Register of Citizens, which requires people to produce documents of ancestry to be enlisted as Indian citizens.
More than 50 people were killed in communal riots in the capital New Delhi in February this year, most of them Muslims. Even in other parts of the country, at least 50 people were killed in communal clashes that lasted for months.
“We have gathered here today to express our collective anguish at the sheer brazenness with which the Delhi Police has turned the investigation into the February violence in Delhi into an inquisition of the anti-CAA protests,” journalist-activist Pamela Philipose told reporters.
The news conference at the Press Club of India was also attended by former Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed and lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
“Umar Khalid himself, before he was jailed, had written to the Delhi Police Commissioner SN Srivastava alleging that the special cell investigators were putting pressure on his acquaintances to implicate him in the case,” said Philipose.
She underlined that coerced evidence was being used “implicate people in the absence of real evidence, charging them of conspiracy against the state, murder, and attempts of murder” such as in Khalid’s case.
At the press conference, the activists also criticized a “lack of basic humanity” displayed by the police, where critically ill detainees are denied basic medical care, and the use of “information and misinformation” to stifle voices, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dozens of human rights defenders, activists, and academics are already in jail on what has been described by critics as politically motivated charges.
Most of them, including Khalid, have been arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for their alleged role in the anti-CAA stir across the country.
Recently, Delhi Police named Sitaram Yechury, a well-known opposition politician of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, economist Jayati Ghosh, activist Yogendra Yadav, and Delhi University professor Apoorvanand and filmmaker Rahul Roy and others whose names had come up during the investigation into the February Delhi riots.
However, none of the members of the ruling BJP, including lawmaker Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur, who had been recorded inciting hate and egging people towards violence in the backdrop of the anti-CAA protests – where the dissenters were labeled as “traitors” who ought to be shot – have been charged by the police.
The international nonprofit Human Rights Watch on Wednesday accused the government of using state machinery and severe sedition and terrorism laws to crack down on critics of the government.
“Indian authorities seem increasingly determined to prosecute without basis peaceful critics of government policies for violence that, by objective reporting, is largely the handiwork of BJP supporters,” said HRW’s South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly.
“By arbitrarily arresting outspoken activists, the government is not only attempting to silence dissent but also sending a message to supporters that they have free rein to commit abuses against minority communities,” she added. EFE-EPA