United Nations Experts on Friday urged the Indian Authorities for the immediate release of anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protesters, who are being held in pre-trial detention without sufficient evidence. “Many of them are simply facing charges on the basis of speeches they made criticising the discriminatory nature of CAA,” the experts said.
“These defenders, many of them students, appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), and their arrest seems clearly designed to send a chilling message to India’s vibrant civil society that criticism of government policies will not be tolerated,” the experts said.
The UN experts have noted 11 individuals who allegedly faced human rights violations, several relating to due process failings during arrest and detention, as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
The individuals are-
Meeran Haider, Gulfisha Fatima, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Khalid Saifi, Shifa Ur Rehman, Kafeel Khan, Sharjeel Imam, and Akhil Gogoi.
One of the most “alarming cases” noted in the official statement was Delhi student Safoora Zargar, who had been detained over two months before finally getting bail this week on Humanitarian grounds in her sixth month of pregnancy. The experts said that Zargar “had been kept in conditions equating to solitary confinement, denied regular contact with her family and legal representative, and having not been provided adequate medical care or diet.”
The experts further flagged their concern that authorities were invoking counter-terrorism or national security legislation and using procedural police powers, to deny bail to anti CAA protesters and issued charges carrying heavy sentences.
The experts also highlighted that the Indian authorities’ response to the protests seemed discriminatory. It appears that they have not similarly investigated allegations of incitement to violence made by CAA supporters, some of whom are reported to have chanted “shoot the traitors” at rallies which were designed specifically to counter the anti-CAA protesters.
“Although demonstrations ended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and India’s Supreme Court issued a recent order to decongest jails because of health concerns related to the pandemic, protest leaders continue to be detained. The reported spread of the virus in Indian prisons makes their immediate release all the more urgent,” the experts said.
The UN experts included: Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi (Working Group on Arbitrary Detention); Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association; Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism; Mr.Ahmed Shaheed The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Ms. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment