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Europe flags rights concern

'Stop impeding and criminalising the work of activists'
Civil rights activist Anand Teltumbde

Pheroze L. Vincent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 31.05.20, 12:25 AM

The chair of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights has written to Union home minister Amit Shah “to stop impeding and criminalising the work of human rights defenders”, citing the arrests of activists that are continuing even during the lockdown.

Thursday’s letter from Maria Arena, Belgian socialist and member of the European Parliament, expresses “serious concerns about the recent arrests of Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha by the National Investigative Agency”.

“It is particularly alarming to note that human rights defenders cannot conduct advocacy activities, notably in favour of India’s poorest and most marginalised communities, without becoming subject to intimidation and harassment, but equally worrying is the fact that terrorism charges, including under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), are used to silence them,” the letter says.

“As pointed out by United Nations Special Procedures, this clearly represents a violation of international human rights standards.”

Academic and Dalit author Teltumbde and human rights activist Navlakha had surrendered to the police last month after exhausting their possible legal remedies.

Nine other activists have been in jail since 2018 in the Bhima Koregaon case, where the charges relate to caste violence around an Ambedkarite event and an alleged Maoist plot to foment armed revolution and possibly assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In 2018, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had issued a statement against terror charges being invoked against the activists.

Arena’s letter also refers to the crackdown against the anti-citizenship-act protesters, especially in Delhi, during the lockdown.

“To date, the European Parliament has noticed that various forms of legitimate peaceful protests against laws, policies and governmental actions, including the Citizenship Amendment Act, have been portrayed as terrorist activities under this legislation, resulting in a number of arrests under this umbrella,” the letter says.

“This is notably the case for human rights activists such as Safoora Zargar, Gulfisha Fatima, Khalid Saifi, Meeran Haider, Shifa-Ur-Rehman, Dr Kafeel Khan; Asif Iqbal and Sharjeel Imam who were recently arrested by the police.”

Arena adds: “We strongly believe that measures should be urgently taken to stop impeding and criminalising the work of human rights defenders by means of overly broad national security legislation and to respect their freedoms of association and expression. India should do much more to ensure a safe and conducive environment for civil society working in the country and consider enacting a law on the protection and promotion of human rights defenders.

“The unprecedented situation of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to repeated calls by the United Nations for the immediate release of prisoners of conscience as part of overall efforts to contain the outbreak….” 

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