Amnesty lashes out at India for jailing pregnant woman activist

New Delhi, May 1 (efe-epa).- The Indian government has grown “exceedingly intolerant” of dissent, Amnesty International said on Friday, after a widespread crackdown on free speech and dissent that also saw a pregnant woman research scholar jailed under a harsh anti-terror law.

Safoora Zargar, 27, who was one of the organizers of weeks of peaceful protests in the Indian capital against a controversial citizenship law passed last December, was arrested on Apr. 10 and charged under the stringent anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, by Delhi Police.

The rights group said the Indian government has been “exceedingly intolerant towards free speech and dissent”.

“But to arrest Safoora who is in the second trimester of her pregnancy and send her to an overcrowded prison during the pandemic highlights how brutal is the ongoing clampdown in the country,” Avinash Kumar, head of Amnesty International India, said in a statement.

Police have accused Zargar, who is three months pregnant, of plotting the riots in northeast Delhi in February.

The research scholar of Jamia Millia Islamia University is in Tihar jail, which is among India’s most overcrowded prisons.

“It is extremely cruel of the government to arrest and imprison a person using repressive laws just because they have been critical of the government,” said Kumar.

The statement said Zargar has not been able to access her lawyer or meet her husband since Apr.14.

“Safoora’s pregnancy is a mitigating factor against her continued detention under UAPA, particularly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” the rights group said.

Zargar is a member of the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC), which organized the protests in the capital against the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA).

Critics of the law say it discriminates against the country’s 200 million Muslims and runs against India’s secular constitution because it fast tracks citizenship for persecuted non-Muslim minorities from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

“India has shown that even during a pandemic when it should be focusing on protecting all of its people without discrimination, it will continue to harass and jail those for peacefully exercising their human rights,” said Kumar.

Amnesty said police have also arrested Meeran Haider, another JCC member, and Shifa-Ur-Rehman, president of the Jamia Millia Islamia Alumni Association under the anti-terror law and sent to Tihar Jail.

UAPA allows authorities to keep suspects in detention without charge for up to 180 days or even more,

“(This) is far beyond international standards. It also contains no provisions for adequate pre-trial safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment,” the Amnesty statement said.

The statement said the governments in India have routinely used repressive laws such as UAPA and sedition, to bypass human rights and stifle dissent.

In April alone this year, the state has filed numerous cases under repressive laws against journalists, activists, lawyers, and students across the country, it said.

The government slapped two journalists in Kashmir with the law cases for social media posts and photographs.

Umar Khalid, a student leader, has also had cases filed under UAPA for his alleged involvement in the 2020 Delhi riots.

Two activists, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha were also arrested by the National Investigative agency under UAPA and sent to prison for their alleged involvement in the 2018 riots in the western state of Maharashtra. EFE-EPA

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