Human Rights

UN tells India to ‘immediately release human rights defenders’ jailed for protesting against CAA

The UN team of experts has called CAA as ‘discriminatory’ 

‘Human rights defenders being held in detention without sufficient evidence’

Terming their arrests ‘discriminatory’ and ‘executed without sufficient evidence’, a team of UN experts today called on India to promptly release the ‘human rights defenders’, those who’ve been jailed for demonstrations and protests.

The comments were made about protestors jailed for protesting against CAA, NPR and NRC, (recent amendments to the nation’s citizenship laws) whose adoption in December 2019 triggered nationwide agitation by Indians who believe that it undermines the democratic principles of India’s constitution.

“These defenders, many of them students, appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), and their arrest seems clearly designed to send a chilling message to India’s vibrant civil society that criticism of government policies will not be tolerated,” the experts said.

The Human Rights Defenders list includes Meeran Haider, Gulfisha Fatima, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Khalid Saifi, Shifa Ur Rehman, Dr. Kafeel Khan, Sharjeel Imam and Akhil Gogoi.

Many of the 11 individual cases (cited above) include serious allegations of human rights violations, several relating to due process failings during arrest and detention, as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

“Authorities should immediately release all human rights defenders who are currently being held in pre-trial detention without sufficient evidence, often simply on the basis of speeches they made criticising the discriminatory nature of the CAA,” the team said.

The experts also highlighted their concern that the authorities’ response to the protests seemed discriminatory as it did not investigate allegations of incitement to hatred and violence made by CAA supporters, some of whom are reported to have chanted “shoot the traitors” at counter-rallies.

Further flagged their concern, the committee stated that the authorities were using counter-terrorism or national security laws and using bureaucratic police forces to refuse bail to protestors and to issue charges with heavy sentences.

“Although demonstrations ended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and India’s Supreme Court issued a recent order to decongest jails because of health concerns related to the pandemic, protest leaders continue to be detained. The reported spread of the virus in Indian prisons makes their immediate release all the more urgent,” they said.


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