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'Crackdown' on human rights defenders 'grave challenge' to freedom to dissent: Amnesty


Press Trust of India New Delhi
The "crackdown" on rights defenders in India in the last few months is a "grave challenge" to the freedom to dissent and "violates" constitutionally guaranteed human rights, the Amnesty International today alleged.
"What is unfolding before our eyes is a pattern of crushing dissent by demonising and criminalising activists, lawyers and journalists working for some of the poorest and most marginalised communities in India," said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General, of the global human rights body.
"This raises huge questions over the government's commitment to protect basic liberties," he claimed.
On August 28, the Maharashtra police arrested five activists -- human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, social activist Vernon Gonsalves, activists Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira, and poet-journalist Varavara Rao -- from different locations across the country.
Premises of other activists, including Anand Teltumbde and father Stan Swamy, were also "raided simultaneously". On August 29, a group of activists and academics filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking the release of those arrested and an independent probe into the arrests.
While hearing the case, the apex court observed, "Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If you don't allow the safety valve pressure cooker will burst." The court had also ordered that the arrested persons be placed under house arrest until the next hearing on September 6.
Earlier this year, in June, there was a similar "crackdown on activists" where the Maharashtra Police had arrested lawyer Surendra Gadling, professor Shoma Sen, and activists Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, and Mahesh Raut.
"All five of them continue to be in judicial custody under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The UAPA is an anti-terror law that violates several international human rights standards and circumvents fair trial guarantees available under Indian criminal law," the Amnesty International India said in a statement.
"Over the past three months, there has been a sustained smear campaign against these ten activists, accusing them of working against India and seeking to undermine years of crucial work they have done to cast light on injustice," claimed Kumi Naidoo.
"These arrests are an extension of a crackdown on anyone who is critical of the state. This includes human rights defenders, journalists and Right to Information (RTI) activists, who have been threatened, harassed and attacked while seeking state accountability," the Amnesty India alleged.
"India is fast becoming a dangerous place for those demanding accountability from the state. When hard-won rights to expression and peaceful protest are weakened, everyone stands to lose," Naidoo alleged.
Following the clashes between Dalits and right-wing groups in Bhima-Koregaon, a village in Maharashtra, on January 1, over commemoration of a 200-year-old British military victory, Gadling, Sen, Wilson, Dhawale, and Raut were arrested in June for their alleged links with banned Maoist groups, and for having "incited caste-based violence".

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First Published: Aug 31 2018 | 10:10 PM IST

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