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APGF calls on Indian Government to release activists and journalists

The Asia-Pacific Greens Federation (APGF) expresses its deep anguish over the recent arrests of certain activists and journalists in India.

The APGF is of the opinion that the languishing of these people in jails looks like and example of the continued brazenness of the regime in the country. Further, it supports the view that the regime in India has captured the institutions of judiciary, law enforcement and regulation, and media.

The APGF, therefore, appeals to the Government of India to immediately release the arrested activists and journalists – Teesta Setalvad, RB Sreekumar and Mohd Zubair, and let the law of the land take its course if the government at all believes they are guilty. It is high time that the former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s persecution also ends. 

Activist Teesta Setalvad, whose NGO played a crucial role in ensuring that several victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots received justice in courts, was arrested on the evening of June 25. She and two former Gujarat police officers – RB Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt – are accused of ‘misleading the SIT’ to get innocent persons convicted. Mr Bhatt, an IPS officer, was arrested a few years ago.

Teesta’s arrest came a day after the Supreme Court rejected Zakia Jafri’s plea challenging the SIT’s refusal to file a case against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his alleged role in the anti-Muslim violence. Zakia Jafri is the widow of Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who, along with 68 others, was killed inside the gated Gulberg Society, a day after the 2002 Godhra riots in Gujarat.

Similarly, the AltNews journalist Mohd Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police without due notice. He was called to Delhi from Ahmedabad, ostensibly for questioning in an earlier case in which the Supreme Court had granted him protection from arrest. However, he was arrested in a fresh case without giving him an opportunity to seek court protection and anticipatory bail.

A complaint for a 2018 tweet is the ostensible reason for his arrest.  He has been booked under Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony). 

Zubair is a co-founder of the popular fact-checking website AltNews created in response to the sudden proliferation of fake news online. 

Zubair has been in the middle of controversy recently for highlighting BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s adverse comments about the Prophet Mohammad on a TV show. She has been removed from the spokespersonship and has gone underground, evading arrest. On the other hand, Zubair has been arrested, apparently for a four-year-old tweet.

The APGF is of the view that Teesta is paying the price for merely invoking a constitutionally protected right in Article 32 of the Indian Constitution that gives the right to individuals to move to the Supreme Court to seek justice when they feel that their right has been unduly deprived. 

So, Bhatt, Teesta, Sreekumar and Zubair need our unqualified voice and support for the fight they are waging on behalf of their people in India. There is ample prima-facie evidence that even procedurally their detention was illegal, and rights were violated from the start. 

It is ironic that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just signed the 2022 Resilient Democracies Statement along with heads of G7 and other countries meeting in Germany. The Statement pledges that these countries are committed to “guarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors” and “protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline”.

The Supreme Court and other courts have repeatedly said that there should be no arrests for tweets or Facebook and other social media posts. However, the list of those arrested for such posts is growing by the day. This is a serious cause for concern, particularly for journalists but equally for civil society.

 

Authorised by Ayah Abdouny and Tika Bhandari, co-Convenors, Asia-Pacific Greens Federation

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