New Delhi, Feb 21 (EFE).- Nonprofit Human Rights Watch on Monday urged Indian authorities to release 18 activists who were arrested after participating in protests in New Delhi against a controversial law, seen as being anti-Muslim, and instead investigate the real culprits behind the subsequent communal violence in which over 50 people were killed.
“Indian authorities have been targeting activists for harassment and arrest instead of impartially investigating allegations that (the ruling party) BJP leaders incited violence and police officials were complicit in attacks,” Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director at HRW, said in a statement.
The communal clashes took place after largely peaceful protests that raged across India for months against a citizenship law backed by the Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which sought to naturalize irregular immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, while excluding Muslims.
In February 2020, a group of radical Hindus launched a counter-protest against a peaceful street gathering against the citizenship law on a road in northeastern Delhi – mainly led by Muslim women – which triggered violent clashes.
The subsequent interreligious violence that engulfed northeast Delhi for a week led to the death of 53 people, including 40 Muslims, the HRW said.
The nonprofit alleged that the violence was backed by several top leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, who “openly called for violence” against Muslim protesters.
According to the NGO, police investigations have not followed this line and instead sought to put the blame on the participants of the “peaceful” protests, arresting 18 activists – including 16 Muslims – for being part of an alleged conspiracy to “defame the Indian government”
The HRW statement said that all the cases were “suspiciously similar” and were based on messages shared by the accused on social media asking people to join the protests against the citizenship bill.
Although a Delhi court released three of the detainees on bail last year citing lack of evidence, the rest remain behind bars.
The government has “accused protest organizers and activists of sedition, murder, attempted murder, promotion of religious enmity, and damage to public property, among other alleged offenses. All those charged have been critical of the BJP government and the citizenship law,” said HRW.
Although the government has registered 758 cases over the inter-community clashes, two years later investigations are pending in over half the cases and just 92 have reached a trial, according to the nonprofit.
The HRW alleged that the police probes have been marked by “bias, delays, inaccuracy, lack of proper evidence, and failure to follow proper procedures.” EFE