Human rights activist and professor Sudha Bharadwaj, who was arrested in multi-city raids by Pune Police earlier on Tuesday and currently on house arrest, has said in a handwritten statement that that the letter the police read out Friday claiming that it was written by her was “totally concocted…(and) fabricated to criminalise me and other human rights lawyers, activists and organisations.”
Bharadwaj said that the letter, which the police said was written to a “Com Prakash,” was a “mixture of innocuous and publicly available facts and baseless fabrication.” She said that legal and democratic activities such as meetings, seminars, protests “have been sought to be delegitimised by alleging they are funded by Maoists.”
“A number of human rights lawyers, activists, and organisations have been deliberately named to cast a stigma over them to obstruct their work and incite hatred against them,” she said. “I categorically state that I have never given Rs 50,000 to hold any programme in Moga. Nor do I know any ‘Com. Ankit’ who is in touch with Kashmiri separatists,” she wrote.
“There is an effort to delegitimise IAPL, an association of lawyers whose pride is Justice Hosbet Suresh and which has been active in speaking up against attacks on lawyers. I categorically state that I have never given Rs 50,000 to hold any programme in Moga, nor do I know any “Ankit from Maharashtra” or “Com” who is in touch with Kashmiri separatists,” she wrote.
“I know Gautam Navlakha, a senior and respected human rights activist whose name has been mentioned in a manner to criminalise and incite hatred against him. I know the Jagdalpur Legal Aid group well and have never solicited any fund from them least of all from any banned organisation. I categorically state that their work has been absolutely legitimate and legal…there has been an effort to criminalise and incite hatred against various lawyers, activists and organisations who have exposed (human rights) violations in Bastar, Chhattisgarh,” Bharadwaj wrote.
Defence lawyers of the activists who have been arrested charged the Maharashtra police with trying to hold a “media trial” and “spread misinformation” about a case that was sub judice.
Rohan Nahar, lawyer for P Varavara Rao, who was also arrested, said he objected to police officials publicly sharing information that was part of investigation and had been placed before courts.
“What police has done today in the press conference is wrong. Police officials shared information from documents that are part of the investigation and are sensitive in nature. Even defence lawyers do not have access to these documents, which the police claim as evidence against accused persons. It is clear that the police is indulging in media trial to put pressure on the judiciary,” Nahar said.
Tosif Shaikh, who represents Vernon Gonsalves, said police seemed more interested in media trial in this case as they did “not have strong evidence to prove allegations levelled against the accused in a court of law”.
Writer and human rights activist Gautam Navlakha’s lawyer Nitya Ramakrishnan said nothing that the Maharashtra police had presented seemed to suggest any offence on the part of his client. “I don’t know what material they (the police) are claiming but it does not appear to me that that there is anything that can be called an offence under the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act that has been invoked against those arrested). From what I have seen, I am unable to make out what it is that can make out an offence, let along under UAPA,” Ramakrishnan said.
Earlier, Pune police teams on Tuesday morning raided the houses of activists in Mumbai, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Delhi and Faridabad and arrested five in alleged connection to a Maoist plot.
Activist Sudha Bhardwaj from Faridabad, Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Gautam Navlakha from Delhi, Arun Pereira and Venon Gonsalves from Mumbai have been detained by the police.
The police searched the homes of Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, Gautam Navlakha in New Delhi, Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad and Stan Swamy in Ranchi, Varavara Rao, Kranti and Naseem in Hyderabad and Dalit scholar Anand Teltumbde in Goa.
Varavara Rao was arrested today for his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, his family members said. His name had come up in a letter seized by the police during searches.
Author and social activist Arundhati Roy has condemned the raids on the “homes of lawyers, poets, writers, Dalit rights activists and intellectuals” and said, “They should raid those who make up lynch mobs and murder people in broad daylight. It tells us very clearly where India is headed. Murderers will be honoured and celebrated. Anybody who speaks up for justice or against Hindu majoritarianism is being made into a criminal. What is happening is absolutely perilous.”
The raids are said to be in connection with investigations on a public meeting that was organised before caste-related violence erupted at Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1.
Suggestions have been given by rights activists that more raids are in the process.