New Delhi, Aug 14 (efe-epa).- India must stop criminalizing dissent and release all peaceful protesters arrested for demonstrating against a controversial citizenship law, the nonprofit Amnesty International said Friday.
The global rights group alleged that many young protesters were being subjected to “intimidation and harassment and arrests” for participating in protests against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that was cleared by the country’s parliament last year.
“India has the world’s largest youth population but instead of listening to these voices, instead of engaging with these voices, the government is trying to suppress them through a brutal crackdown on dissent,” said Avinash Kumar, who heads the India chapter of the rights watchdog.
“Students are accused of being ‘anti-nationals’ for disagreeing with government policies and peacefully protesting against them,” Kumar said on the eve of India’s 74th Independence Day, urging the government to release the arrested protesters.
“This is a good time to remind the government that the Supreme Court of India in 2018 said ‘dissent is the safety valve of a democracy’. It is time to act on it,” he added.
The Indian police have arrested hundreds of protesters in a widespread crackdown against those demonstrating against the CAA, introduced in Parliament by the Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and cleared in December 2019.
Since then India, officially a secular country, has been on a communal edge over the alleged “anti-Muslim” citizenship law.
The law, which critics say undermines the secular nature of India’s constitution because it fast tracks citizenship for persecuted non-Muslim minorities from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, triggered a wave of violent unrest across the country.
Its critics also underline that when coupled with the National Register of Citizens, which requires people to produce documents of ancestry to be enlisted as Indian citizens, the law could be used to persecute Muslims, who account for 200 million of the country’s around 1.3 billion population.
More than 50 people were killed in communal riots in the capital New Delhi in February this year, with most of the victims being Muslims. Even in other parts of the country, at least 50 people have been killed in communal clashes.
“Amnesty International India has called for repealing the CAA. It is a bigoted citizenship law that discriminates on the basis of religion. The law is specifically exclusionary towards Muslims,” the rights group said.
It stressed that many students from the capital who took part in the peaceful anti-CAA protests were either being arrested and jailed under draconian anti-terror laws or subjected to intense intimidation and harassment.
“They are called in for interrogation during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The nonprofit said police were using sedition laws and anti-terror laws “to harass, intimidate and imprison those who are critical of the government”.
“The slow investigative processes and extremely stringent bail provisions under this law ensure that they are locked up for years without trial, turning the process into punishment.”
The rights group said that Indian police have been brutal on dissent in college campuses, specifically those dominated by Muslims or encouraging diverse opinions.
“This crackdown is an attempt to extinguish dissent by the students. The space for saying what you think and demanding a better world is fast disappearing and we need to protect it,” Kumar said.
The nonprofit will be launching the ‘Right To Dissent’ campaign on Aug.15, India’s Independence Day.
“The campaign will demand the release of those who are unlawfully imprisoned under draconian laws for speaking truth to power,” said Kumar.
The campaign will challenge unfair laws and call for the Indian government to stop the suppression of people’s freedom of expression and opinion.