New Delhi: Condemning the arrest of social activists and intellectuals Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha on Tuesday, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) said that this “attempt to browbeat rights activists” marked a “deep and scathing new low in the political history of contemporary India”.
The advocacy organisation for democratic rights and civil liberties said their arrest amidst a nationwide lockdown only reinforces the Union government’s persistent efforts to clamp down on “activists, lawyers and journalists across the country” who have been “tirelessly raising issues of grave human rights violations” in India.
PUDR pointed out a number of issues that points out the Union government’s alleged conspiracy to fabricate cases against the 11 activists who have been arrested in the Bhima Koregaon criminal case.
It said that all the activists, including Teltumbde and Navlakha, have been arrested for allegedly having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The Pune Police, which probed the matter before the National Investigation Agency took over, had claimed that these activists were hatching a conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a “Rajiv Gandhi like incident”. This was the reason the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was slapped on these activists.
No mention of the assassination has since been made.
PUDR said that the allegations were “outrageous” as “none of the original FIRs make out these allegations against the accused, and the case of the police relies wholly on digital documents presented at press conferences, leaked to media houses and divulged in ‘sealed envelopes’ before the courts.”
The civil society group further said that all the activists were charged with the allegations in a completely unconnected incident, that is the violence against Dalits at the Elgar Parishad at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018.
“The FIRs relating to this violence have been selectively acted upon, such that the perpetrators of the violence, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote (both associated with the Sangh parivar), are still at large, while persons unrelated to the event and not named in the FIRs have been arrested and incarcerated for 18-20 months without bail,” PUDR said.
It further said, “Revelations regarding the unauthorised use of the Pegasus software against many of those arrested raises serious doubts on the authenticity of these digital documents (produced by the investigation agencies). Even the Supreme Court, in its dissenting opinion in August 2018, expressed doubts on the impartiality of investigations in the case and called for the constitution of a Special Investigative Team (SIT).”
Claiming that the arrests of the activists are nothing but a politically-motivated plan to silence these dissenters who have been openly highlighting excesses perpetrated by the Indian state, PUDR said, “Just when the Maharashtra government decided to institute a SIT to probe into the dubious role of the police in this case in January this year, the Central government decided to hand over the case to the NIA…”
It also believed that since the new FIR filed by the NIA mentions as accused the 11 persons and unnamed “others”, it leaves “the possibility of further intimidation and arrests of more activists, journalists and lawyers in the case.”
Despite any solid evidence, the police’s use of UAPA against the activists was to deny them a fair trial, PUDR said.
“The role of the UAPA in furthering the claims of the police against the activists is also evident from the fact that none of the eleven accused have been allowed bail, regular, interim, medical or anticipatory, barring the one time when one of the accused was allowed to attend the cremation of her father. Denial of bail is an essential part of the punishment under this law,” it said in its statement.
PUDR qualified their arrests as an act of “state vengeance” for their critical role in democratic India.
“All of those arrested are public minded individuals who have successfully brought to light the untold misery and suffering being inflicted on adivasis by State forces and powerful vested interests. In many cases, the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission recognised the illegalities committed by the government and the armed forces. These 11 individuals and the organisations they are associated with have been taking up issues of workers, peasants and tribal rights, on issues of caste and communal violence, of development, displacement and the environment, of police firings, encounter killings and custodial violence,” PUDR said.