The nationwide crackdown on activists, advocates and human rights defenders is disturbing and threatens core human-rights values, Amnesty International India and Oxfam India said in a joint statement today.
The response came hours after the Maharashtra police raided the homes of prominent Left-wing activists in several states and arrested at least five of them for suspected Maoist links. It sparked a chorus of outraged protests from several lawyers, academics and authors, some of whom termed the move "absolutely chilling" and others saying it amounted to a "virtual declaration of emergency".
"Today's arrests is the second of such crackdowns on rights activists, advocates and journalists who have been critical of the state. All these people have history of working to protect the rights of some of India's most poor and marginalized people. Their arrests raise disturbing questions about whether they are being targeted for their activism," said Aakar Patel, executive director, Amnesty International India.
The statement referred to the raids by the police which have resulted in arrests of Chhattisgarh-based human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, Maharashtra-based social activist Vernon Gonsalves, former secretary of People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) Gautam Navlakha, Maharashtra-based activist Arun Ferreira and Telangana journalist Varavara Rao, adding that it was "creating an atmosphere of fear".
"These arrests cannot become the order of the day. The government should protect people's rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear," said Amitabh Behar, the CEO of Oxfam India.
Today's raids were carried out as part of a probe into the violence between Dalits and the upper caste Peshwas at Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune after an event called Elgar Parishad, or conclave, on December 31 last year.
In June, five activists were arrested on the suspicion of inciting the caste-based violence on January 1. Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut were arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and several sections of the Indian Penal Code.
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