New Delhi, Jun 15 (efe-epa).- Nonprofit Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday urged the Indian government to stop the arrests and prosecution of activists – involved in protests against a controversial citizenship law – in cases related to communal riots in Delhi in which around 50 people were killed in February.
“Indian authorities should immediately drop politically-motivated charges against those peacefully protesting against citizenship policies that discriminate against Muslims and release them from custody,” HRW said in a statement.
The group alleged that the police have slapped “draconian” laws, including the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and sedition, against students and activists involved in the protest but turned a blind eye to violence and provocative speeches by Hindu right-wing groups, considered close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
When India went into lockdown in late March to check the spread of the novel coronavirus, the measure brought an end to massive protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that had rocked the country since December.
For months, large groups of protesters led by women had stood up against the law, that granted citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighboring countries except Muslims, with several neighborhoods in Delhi and other cities witnessing round-the-clock sit-ins and blockade of roads.
However, during the past few months amid the Covid-19 lockdown, the police has arrested many activists involved in the protests, including university students such as Meeran Haider, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha as well as Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, part of a feminist student collective named Pinjra Tod (break the locks).
Many of them have been charged under the UAPA, which allows arrest for up to 180 days without trial and is also used for terror-related cases.
“The Indian authorities have used the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown to arrest activists, silence dissent, and deter future protests against discriminatory policies,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW.
The theory of the investigators claims that the Delhi riots – which broke out between Hindu and Muslim groups on Feb. 23 in northeastern parts of the capital and continued for 5 days – were the result of a conspiracy among those opposed to the citizenship law.
The violence was caused by “a web of conspirators” with the intent “to create communal strife, to malign the image of the country under the garb of democratically opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act,” and by spreading misinformation on the act, alleged the police chargesheet linked to the investigations.
However, critics have claimed that the police has not acted on violence and actions of Hindu right-wing groups, who they allege to be the main culprits behind the Delhi riots.
The HRW has alleged that many of those arrested have limited or no access to legal help or family members due to the lockdown, while expressing concerns that the detainees are facing heightened risks of contracting Covid-19 in overcrowded prisons.
Amnesty International India’s Executive Director Avinash Kumar, told EFE last week that the government has taken advantage of the coronavirus situation to act with impunity.
“They want to basically send a public signal across the country at a time when it’s next to impossible to organize a public protest against this, precisely because of the pandemic,” Kumar said.
Muslims, who form around 14 percent of Hindu-majority India’s 1.3 billion population, fear being reduced to second-class citizens by the CAA along with a proposed nationwide citizenship registry, while other critics have said the law goes against the constitution’s secular ethos.
“The government has repeatedly said that minorities in India have nothing to fear, and the authorities should put actions to those words,” Ganguly said. EFE-EPA