Arrest of Young Activists under UAPA: Govt. Misusing COVID-19 Situation to Suppress Critical Voices, Say Rights Activists, Community Leaders
NEW DELHI, MAY 21— Young and educated activists, who were spearheading the anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protests very peacefully and legally earlier this year, are now being falsely implicated by the Delhi Police in the end-February violence at the behest of a political party, charged a group of eminent rights activists, lawyers and community leaders at a joint press conference through Zoom Thursday afternoon.
Speaking at the press conference, legal and human rights activist Teesta Setalvad said: “Despite the lockdown, whatever police are doing is police raj. They are doing it because people can’t protest now. The attitude of the Delhi Police and Home Ministry in the last 60-70 days is to give a message to the emerging educated leadership of the Muslim community and this is shameful. This is a misuse of COVID-19 situation. We don’t know when the lockdown will be lifted, but people will protest against this.”
Teesta also said that the arrest of activists in the last few weeks is “to change the whole narrative of the protest.” “The anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protests had shocked the dispensation. The government was unable to bear it because the protestors were holding Tiranga and Constitution.”
She also questioned the silence of Opposition parties on the recent arrests.
“We are looking towards the judiciary to correct the wrong doing. Why is the opposition silent? Except RJD and some left parties, all others are silent. They are speaking on migrant workers but why not on this,” she asked.
In recent weeks, around one dozen young activists and students, including Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider and Khalid Saifi were booked and arrested under the stringent Unlawful Activists Prevention Act (UAPA) in connection with the Delhi violence.
Taking part in the joint press conference on “Framing Anti-CAA Activists Under False Charges: The Continuous Witch-Hunt by Delhi Police”, senior lawyer of the Supreme Court Prashant Bhushan termed the police action as “conspiracy of investigation”.
“Police are not investigating the conspiracy of Delhi violence, but it is a conspiracy of investigation. Those who set best example for protection of Constitution are now being targeted and arrested. All protests were peaceful despite all attempts by BJP people to disrupt them and even gunmen were sent there but the protesters did not resort to violence. When all attempts failed then people like Kapil Mishra was sent for clearly instigating the people. Those who were victims of the violence are now being targeted by police,” said Bhushan.
He questioned as to why courts and NHRC are not functioning properly.
“Courts should start functioning properly while maintaining social distancing. Police reform is long due. NHRC is not working effectively. There is a need of a high-level enquiry into highhandedness of police to make some officers accountable. For this, courts and NHRC need to function properly. Public opinion should be built up for proper functioning of courts and NHRC,” said Bhushan.
Delhi University faculty Prof. Apoorvanand Jha equated Delhi Police probe into Delhi violence with Bhima Koregaon case probe.
“A story is being scripted about Delhi violence that a conspiracy was done for it and certain people were part of it. Like in Bhima Koregaon case, the initial accused are roaming free but activists were later arrested as part of conspiracy. The same is happening in Delhi violence case. People are being made to believe that conspiracy was being hatched by those who were taking part in the anti-CAA protests,” said Prof Jha.
He also questioned about the provocation made by some political leaders.
“All anti-CAA protests were peaceful and as per the rights guaranteed under the constitution. There was no violence in it, but those against it resorted to violence and some leaders used violent and provocative language and people were instigated for violence and then violence erupted. It is clear who instigated violence. All should oppose this conspiracy theory being hatched by police,” he said.
Questioning the invocation of UAPA, civil rights activist Kavita Krishnan charged that Police doing it just to keep them behind bars as they can’t do it in normal laws. She also asked why no action taken yet against Kapil Mishra for his provocative speech.
“Provocative speeches by leaders like Kapil Mishra were known to all. A judge of Delhi High Court had ordered action against the speakers, but he was transferred. The government had told the court that it was not right time to act against him and that was in February. Now it is May but time has not yet come. Police are not implicating anti-CAA protesters in violence but in UAPA because they do not need to show proof now, and people can be put behind bars without bail for a long period. There is an attempt to present the biggest victim of violence as culprit. The government is doing this all in pandemic time because they know no protest can occur in this time. Government is sending people in jails at a time when all have sought for release of prisoners,” said Kavita.
All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat president Navaid Hamid also questioned the silence of NHRC and NCM over the issue.
“I offer my slam to youths in jail, they are real sons of India and they are Constitution warriors. They are now in jail. NHRC and National Commission for Minorities (NCM) are silent. They are not caring about their constitutional responsibility. They should leave their post if they cannot protect the Constitution. UAPA was made to target dalit, adivasi and Muslims. They are not even sparing pregnant woman activists. This all is maligning the image of India in the world,” said Hamid.
Rajya Sabha MP and Delhi University faculty Prof. Manoj Jha said: “This won’t stop here. They are farming bright students of university and tarnishing their career. They have chosen this timing with purpose when courts are not working properly.”
Vice President of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Prof Mohammad Salim Engineer said the targeting of activists during the lockdown shows insensitivity of the government.
“The arrests, despite the pandemic, show insensitivity of our government. People are united and ready to fight against COVID and are with the government but it is silently pushing its communal agenda,” said Salim Engineer.
He asked the Delhi Police to think about its action as it is maligning their image.
“This is a challenge for Delhi Police. They are accountable to law and Constitution and they should not be part of any political agenda and should not become tool of a political party. They should be responsible for their self-respect and freedom. It is not your responsibility to push any political party’s agenda. During the violence, the role of police was also questionable and this maligned the image of India and the Police,” he said.
He said criticism is necessary for democracy and government should think about it.
“We want to tell the government that it thinks that youths and activists and critics are threat to it. Rather, it should think that criticism is necessary for democracy. If it thinks it can silence critics, it is wrong. It should reconsider its attitude,” he said.