New Delhi: The Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has asked India to immediately release activists arrested for protesting against the new Citizenship (Amendment) Act , or CAA.
“These defenders, many of them students, appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA, 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,” OHCHR said in a statement.
In December, parliament passed a law to fast-track grant of Indian citizenship to six religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians. A large number of groups and political parties have termed the law discriminatory because it left out the Muslims. Protests have taken place all across India since Novemberlast year demanding its withdrawal.
In February,communal rioting erupted over CAA in Delhi in which 53 people were killed.
The government has repeatedly claimed that CAA will be implemented at any cost and that opposition parties were spreading misconceptions about the new law which it said wouldn’t affect Indian Muslims.
The OHCHR statement mentioned the case of pregnant Delhi student Safoora Zargar, who was released on bail on June 23.
It said – “…Zargar was detained for over two months having allegedly been kept in conditions equating to solitary confinement, denied regular contact with her family and legal representative, and having not been provided adequate medical care or diet. She was finally granted bail on June 23, in her sixth month of pregnancy, on humanitarian grounds.”
Others named by UN office in its statement included Meeran Haider, Gulfisha Fatima, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Khalid Saifi, Shifa Ur Rehman, Dr Kafeel Khan, Sharjeel Imam and Akhil Gogoi, who have been arrested over the past six-seven months.
“Many of the 11 individual cases 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,” it said.
“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 statement said.
It said that the authorities were invoking counter-terrorism or national security legislation, and using procedural police powers, to deny bail to protesters and issue charges carrying 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,” the UN said.
The UN, the statement said, was in contact with the Indian government on the matter.
BJP MP Rakesh Sinha said: “CAA is law under Indian Constitution and provides relief to victims of religious majoritarianism in Pak Bangladesh and Afghanistan. I condemn the statement as unwise and against the international customs.”