Despite COVID outbreak, Journalists, activists and academics in India face ‘judicial harassment’: Report

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New Delhi: Stating that human rights defenders continue to be the “target” of the Government of India (GoI), a report published by a global civil society alliance CIVICUS, suggests that “persecution” of human rights defenders, activists, student leaders and journalists continues in India.

Holding the Narendra Modi led GoI responsible, the report also mentioned those detained under the Draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and sedition cases.

Despite the sharp rise in the number of COVID infections in India, the deadly virus has not been able to put any halt on the intimidation on these human rights defenders.

The novel Coronavirus tally in India has mounted to 5,214,677, the death toll has reached 84,404 and 4,112,551 people have recovered from the deadly virus so far.

While talking about the increasing judicial harassment in Bhima Koregaon case that occurred in Koregaon Bhima village in Maharashtra state of India and the subsequent arrest of human rights defender Hany Babu, the report said: “he is now the twelfth accused arrested for his alleged involvement in the violence that broke out at BhimaKoregaon on 1st January 2018.”

Further, the report cites the vulnerability of the detainees due to the fatal consequences of the Pandemic.

Mentioning detainees including the poet and civil rights activist Varavara Rao and Sharjeel imam, a student activist from Jawaharlal Nehru University, the report made open the direct threat they all had when they tested positive for the novel Coronavirus.

It also highlighted the imposition of harsh restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir which are being continued amid the COVID outbreak.

“The ill-treatment by armed forces personnel, arrests, torture and sedition laws were some of the concerns the report had for JK which were explained by referring to the report published recently by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCSS),” it said.

With a detailed analysis of the rise in arrests and curb over the freedom of expression, in particular, the report highlighted the cases of arrests without any concrete basis across the country under the Modi government.

A women’s right activist, P Ranganakamma was charged for questioning the government’s inaction as she posted 20 questions on Facebook questioning the government’s credibility with regard to the Vishakapatnam gas leakage.

In this regard, an FIR was filed against her by the Crime Investigation Department (CID).

Opening up about the arrests by the government, the report contained the case of  RajuBaitha, a Dalit anti-corruption activist and district convener of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) who has been arrested on the basis of multiple “fabricated accusations”.

The report also mentioned a case where social workers assisting a rape survivor were arrested and detained by a civil court in Araria in Bihar.

About this, a woman had filed a complaint on July 7, at the Araria women’s station with an allegation of gang rape the day before. While signing the statement, she insisted on showing the statement to one of her activists, thus, the three women were arrested on the basis of preventing government servants from doing their duty.

Yet another case of detention of women activists was that of the arrest of members of the women’s collective Pinjra Tod  for opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act to which the Civicus report called “discriminatory”.

Many of the detainees mentioned in the report have been the protestors during the revolt against the CAA. Student at Aligarh Muslim University and anti-CAA activist Sharjeel Usmani was arrested by the anti-terrorist squad (ATS) as per the report and was charged with several penal offences including section 147 (rioting) and many others.

Amongst these protestors, a pregnant protestor SafooraZargar was released on bail for explicit reasons for her pregnancy and the risk due to the pandemic.

Apart from case studies of protestors and human rights activists, the report mentioned the attacks on journalists under the Modi government.

On August 11, 2020, three journalists working with The Caravan, Shahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh and a female journalist were attacked by a mob when they were reporting in north-east Delhi.

The journalists were reporting on the communal tensions that broke out in the area of August 5. The woman journalist faced “sexual harassment” from men and they were attacked because they realized Shahid was a muslim, the report said.

In yet another case of attacks on journalists, a young journalist was charged for sharing an alleged medical scam on WhatsApp. As per the report, the FIR charged against Sankalp Neb was “fabricated”.

Neb had shared a screenshot of a tweet alleging a medical scam via WhatsApp so as to draw the attention of senior officials. In the scam, negative COVID reports were deliberately shown positive so as to receive government funding.

in another case mentioned by the report, the Supreme Court of India punished civil rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan with a “nominal” fine of one rupee for committing criminal contempt by “scandalising the court”.

Bhushan was convicted on August 14, for his tweets criticising the Supreme Court and Chief Justice of India (CJI), Bobde. In one of his tweets, Bhushan had commented on CJI Bobde’s photo of himself astride a Harley Davidson bike during the lockdown.

In the second tweet, he had criticised the incumbent and past CJIs about the functioning of the court in the past six years.

He followed this by filing a 100-page reply in his defence, criticising the court for “surrendering to a majoritarian executive acting in tyranny”.


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