New Delhi, Feb 15 (efe-epa) – The arrest in India of environmental activist Disha Ravi, a member of the environmental movement “Fridays for Future” started by Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, provoked a wave of indignation across the country on Monday.
On Sunday, the New Delhi Police arrested Ravi, 21, for participating in the creation of an online document or toolkit, shared by Thunberg, in support of the farmers’ protest that has been taking place in India for several months demanding the repeal of three laws liberalizing the agricultural sector.
“The aim of that toolkit was to create disinformation and disaffection against the lawfully elected government. The toolkit sought to artificially amplify the fake news through various tweets,” New Delhi’s Joint Commissioner of Police (Cyber Crime) Prem Nath said Monday.
The authorities are also on the lookout for another two activists, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk, for allegedly taking part in the creation of the toolkit in collaboration with a separatist group.
Prominent lawyer Prashant Bhushan, in a joint statement signed by scores of other personalities including prominent writer Arundhati Roy, denounced the charges against Ravi were “absurd to say the least” and “an attempt to criminalize dissent and protest.”
What was most serious, according to the joint statement, is that the the climate activist was arrested in the southern city of Bangalore but was brought before a court in New Delhi without proper procedures for her transit and was not provided access to a lawyer.
“These actions of Delhi Police have made a complete mockery of the ‘procedure established by law’,” denounced the statement, terming the arrest of Ravi as “illegal.”
The nonprofit Human Rights Watch’s South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly said on Twitter that the “Indian authorities really should end these arbitrary actions targeting peaceful dissent.”
Criticism of the police operation also came from parties opposed to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Delhi’s Chief Minister and leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, Arvind Kejriwal, described Ravi’s arrest as an unprecedented attack on democracy.
“Arrest of 21 yr old Disha Ravi is an unprecedented attack on Democracy. Supporting our farmers is not a crime,” tweeted Kejriwal.
Thousands of farmers have been camping since the end of November on several roads entering New Delhi, as part of a wave of demonstrations against the government’s agricultural reforms.
Although mostly peaceful, on the occasion of India’s Republic Day on Jan. 26, a protest march around the capital resulted in clashes that left one farmer dead and hundreds wounded, most of them policemen.
Ravi’s case is the latest in a series of arrests of activists that are critical of the government in the South Asian country.
Several intellectuals were arrested last year for allegedly planning to assassinate the prime minister or for inciting violence during an event in favor of the untouchables or Dalits – who make up the lowest rung of the Hindu caste system – on Jan. 1, 2018 in the western town of Bhima Koregaon.
Other young activists, such as Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, faced a similar fate as they were accused of stoking communal violence last year in the capital during the protests against a citizenship law that was considered discriminatory against Muslims.
“India under Modi has been for the last few years in thrall to a variety of conspiracy theories” in cases where proof has been virtually non existent, Asim Ali, research associate at the Centre for Policy Research, told EFE.
“These conspiracies helps the government to stifle critics and keep civil society in check,” Ali summarized. EFE-EPA