New Delhi: In a press statement issued soon after the arrest of Umar Khalid, a group of rights activists, academics and lawyers described the political activist as “one of our bravest young voices who spoke for the constitutional values of our country” and condemned the police action against him as a ‘witch hunt’.
Khalid was arrested late night on September 13 and charged with sedition, offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act as well as murder and attempt to murder. The charges stem from police claims that Khalid and others who were involved in peaceful protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens had “conspired” to trigger riots in Delhi so as to embarrass the Modi government in the eyes of the world.
“As citizens deeply committed to constitutional values, we condemn the arrest of Umar Khalid who has been subjected to a malicious investigation targeting peaceful anti-CAA protestors,” the statement says. “With deep anguish we have no doubt in saying that this investigation is not about the violence in February 2020 in the national capital, but on the completely peaceful and democratic protests across the country against the unconstitutional CAA.”
Describing Khalid as “one of the hundreds of voices that spoke up in favour of the constitution across the country during these anti-CAA protests, always foregrounding the need for peaceful, non-violent and democratic means”, the statement said that “he has emerged as a strong and powerful voice of young Indians in favour of the constitution and of democracy.”
The signatories to the statement are Ravi Kiran Jain and V. Suresh of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, lawyers Mihir Desai and N.D. Pancholi, academics Satish Deshpande, Mary John, Apoorvanand, Nandini Sundar and Shuddhabrata Sengupta, and rights activists Aakar Patel, Harsh Mander, Farah Naqvi and Biraj Patnaik.
The group said the “repeated attempts by the Delhi police to implicate [Khalid] in a number of fictitious cases of conspiracy for the Delhi violence are part of a brazen attempt to try to suppress his voice of dissent”. They also drew attention to the manner in which young people have been targeted:
“It is very significant that of the 20 arrested, 19 are under the age of 31. Of which 17 have been charged under the draconian UAPA and have been imprisoned on charges of a conspiracy for the Delhi violence whereas those who actually instigated and participated in the violence has not been touched. Of the ones incarcerated, five are women, except for one all are also students.
“The essence of our democracy is the freedom of conscience and the strength of any country is in its young minds. We strongly condemn the targeting of Umar Khalid and other young activists, both women and men.”
They said that the right to life was “not just to be allowed to eat, live and breathe; it is to live without fear, with dignity and with freedom of expression, including dissent” and that the “objective of this witch hunt” the police has launched in the name of an investigation is “to silence democratic voices and instil fear.”
Apart from demanding Khalid’s release, the signatories to the statement said that given the earlier incidents of physical attacks in court premises in the instance of former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, and the attempt on Umar’s life in Delhi in 2018 when a gunman opened fire in broad daylight, “it is imperative that all measures are taken to avoid any threat to his life and safety so long as he remains in the custody of the state / judiciary.”
The group also urged the media to stop the publication or broadcast of “false information and selective leakages”, the aim of which was to influence the course of justice. “This must cease by all means. If we let law take its own course, we are confident that justice would prevail,” they say.