NHRC Issues Notice to Maharashtra Chief Secretary, DGP on Activists' Arrests

The commission has said media reports suggest the Maharashtra police did not follow standard operating procedure, "which may amount to violation of their human rights".

New Delhi: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has today issued notice to the Maharashtra chief secretary and director general of police on the arrests of five human rights activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira – from different cities on Tuesday (August 28).

The FIR on the basis of which the arrests were made relates to the violence which followed the Bhima-Koregaon commemorative event held in Maharashtra on January 1 this year.

Taking suo motu cognisance of the arrests, the NHRC has said in a statement that media reports suggest the Maharashtra police did not follow standard operating procedure, “which may amount to violation of their human rights”.

In addition to the arrests, the Maharashtra police raided the houses of nine activists (including the five arrested) and seized electronic devices and other items.

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While explaining why the commission is issuing notice to the chief secretary and DGP, the release says that the Delhi high court, while staying the transit remand for civil liberties activist Gautam Navlakha, has said that “police have not been able to satisfactorily explain the offence he had been arrested for”. “…the court has questioned how Pune police managed to get a transit remand from a Delhi court without any local witness. The court has also directed translation of the police documents into English which are in vernacular language,” the NHRC has said.

The commission has also brought up the arrest of Sudha Bharadwaj. “The activist has told the court that she had nothing to do with the incident for which she has been arrested. According to her, the FIR did not even name her and she is being harassed and arrested only because of her ideology,” the NHRC has said.

Those already arrested for the Bhima Koregaon violence include human rights lawyer from Nagpur Surendra Gadling, Dalit rights activist and journalist Sudhir Dhawale, former Prime Minister Rural Development fellow Mahesh Raut, prisoners’ rights activist Rona Wilson and associate professor from Nagpur University Shoma Sen. According to the NHRC, it had received a complaint from an NGO in Geneva calling these arrests (made in June) illegal, and issued notice to the Maharashtra DGP then asking for a report on the matter. While the notice was sent on June 29, the commission is yet to receive the police’s report, the NHRC’s statement said.