Eight political parties condemn arrests of students and activists in letter to the President

The letter questions the timing of these arrests and condemns the use of UAPA against scholars; Representatives of the Congress (INC), Samajwadi Party (SP), Aam Admi Party (AAP) Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool Congress (TMC) and DMK are absent from the communication, though

activist arrest

Taking strong objection to the manner and fashion of the recent arrests of students and activists during the COVID 19 Pandemic lockdown in the national capital, eight political parties of India have written a letter to the President, Ramnath Kovind, condemning these arrests as well as the timing of such arrests. The indiscriminate arrests that have been taking place since early March have particularly intensified after the lockdown taking full advantage, it is alleged, of the absence of free movement and protests that could or would have otherwise ensued. Most of those arrested are young Muslim activists, including women student leaders who were active in organising protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and the NPR-NRC. Student leaders of left parties have also been called in for questioning!

The Hindu reported that this letter has been signed by Sitaram Yechury, CPI (M) general secretary, D. Raja, CPI general secretary, Dipankar Bhattacharya, CPI(ML) general secretary, Debabrata Biswas, AIFB general secretary, Manoj Bhattacharya, RSP general secretary, Sharad Yadav, LJD general secretary, Manoj Jha, RJD MP, and Thol. Thirumavalavan, MP and VCK president.

The letter states that these arrests are ill timed especially in times when the whole world is experiencing fear and uncertainty. It further says that the priority of the government must be to focus on effectively dealing with the COVID19 pandemic and the problems that have spawned from it such as the starving migrant workers trying to get back home.

Instead of following the example of other countries which have released their prisoners, in India a physically disabled prisoner like Dr. GN Saibaba has not been allowed to seek competent medical treatment. The letter also condemns the arrest and continuing detention of former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti.

The letter also calls the charges invoked against M.Phil student Safoora Zafar under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) as “manufactured charges”. Additionally, many such students are being called by Special branch and are being intimidated, says the letter.

Further, the letter points out that there is no action against the outsiders who unleashed violence on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University and instead the victims of the violence are being targeted by the police. “It is also shocking to note that certain communities are being targeted while the perpetrators of communally charged violence, established in various video recordings, including prominent leaders of the ruling party, are moving around scot-free,” says the letter.

The letter also spoke of the arrests made in the case of riots in North-East Delhi towards the end of February, pointing out that only young Muslim men were being arrested and interrogated for the same, creating a sense of insecurity within the Muslim community.

The letter also condemns the continued detention of RJD chief Lalu Prasasd Yadav despite of his ill health and condemned the stringent conditions of his imprisonment.

“The arrests of Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha in the Bhima Koregaon case even while continuing the detention of activists Sudha Bharadwaj and others without any evidence is another shocking example of how civil liberties are being trampled,” the letter says.

This letter condemning arrests of scholars and activists in connection with the anti-CAA protests is not the first of its kind. Front Line Defenders, an organization that works with a specific aim of protecting rights activists, has also condemned there arrests which include Shifa Ur Rehman, President of the alumni association of Jamia Milia Islamia; Kawalpreet Kaur, President of the All India Students Association for Delhi; Khalid Saifi, a HRD and social activist associated with United against Hate and so on. The organization in its statement said, “Anti-terror laws have historically been used against human rights defenders in India, most notably in the Bhima Koregaon cases and most recently to suppress anti-CAA protesters. The continued incarceration of these human rights defenders in the context of COVID-19 puts them at risk, whilst also violating global best practice and directives set by the Indian Supreme Court to decongest prisons during the pandemic.”

It is significant that while left parties and the RJDare signatories to this letter, representatives of other opposition parties like the Congress (INC), Samajwadi Party (SP), Aam Admi Party (AAP) Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool Congress (TMC) and DMK are conspicuously absent from the communication.

A week ago, around 1,100 respected feminist intellectuals across India such as Annie Raja, Medha Patkar, Farah Naqvi, Aruna Roy, Teesta Setalvad, Aparna Sen, Shabnam Hashmi, among others, also released a statement of condemnation against the targeting of the activists as well as the wider move to spin a false narrative that links the anti-CAA protests with the violence in Delhi. The statement said, “As feminists we decry this systematic crackdown on, and mis-representation of, the peaceful and constitutional anti-CAA-NRC-NPR movement. Led so powerfully by Muslim women across the country, these protests witnessed a new wave of women stepping out in their own neighbourhoods in huge numbers, defying social structures and asserting their rights as citizens of a secular, democratic republic—one of the most historic moments and movements, since independence.”



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