260 prominent human rights activists, intellectuals, journalists, artists and community leaders from all over the world strongly condemned the arrest of eminent human rights activist Teesta Setalvad and R.B. Sreekumar , Sanjiv Bhatt (already in prison for over 18 months) as well as journalist and fact checker Mohammed Zubair in India. The newly launched broad-based alliance, Solidarity for the Prisoners of Conscience in India, had appealed for this show of solidarity.
Statement in Support of Teesta, Sreekumar & other Human Rights Defenders in India
We the undersigned, concerned citizens of the world, and representing various human rights organizations, condemn the arrest of veteran human rights leader, Teesta Setalvad and other Human Rights Defenders. These are Prisoners of Conscience in India, and all such prisoners must be freed.
June 25, 2022 marked the 47th anniversary of the dark era of an Emergency in India, when a government hijacked the whole edifice of the state. The ruling party and its leader treated the state as their personal estate. It was the imposition of a highly concentrated apparatus of power on a fundamentally free and federal society, and the turning over of this centralized apparatus for personal vengeance and pursuit of raw political power. It was one fell swoop overtaking the whole country, spreading a psychosis of fear and terror.
It was in this era when the Supreme Court of India gave the infamous judgment in Additional Divisional Magistrate (ADM) of Jabalpur vs. Shivkant Shukla case (Habeas Corpus) that during an emergency, the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India to its citizens, including the right to life and personal liberty, shall stand extinguished. This same horror is being repeated with a vengeance now by the government of the day and tragically being endorsed by the Apex Court, the Supreme Court of India.
This is what has happened in the case of Zakia Jafri v/s the State of Gujarat, wherein after dismissing her appeal, the Supreme Court has made totally unwarranted observations against those who worked the case to seek justice. The court went on to assail them for their “audacity” to “question the integrity of every functionary” and their motives were tarred as “ulterior design”. The court observed that “all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law.”
Within hours of this Emergency-type judgment of the Supreme Court, the Gujarat Police swung into action in Emergency-type ruthlessness. They forcibly entered the house of human rights activist and lawyer, Teesta Setalvad, in Mumbai, assaulted her, and took her into custody on Jun. 25, 2022 (Emergency anniversary day). The action is so cruel that Teesta has, in a written complaint stated, “I fear seriously for my life.” The First Information Report (FIR) under which she has been detained accuses the former Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) of Gujarat, R. B. Sreekumar, and Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Sanjiv Bhatt (already in jail in a concocted case), and activist Teesta Setalvad of conspiring to fabricate evidence, tutor witnesses and abuse the process of law. Soon after, Mr Sreekumar was arrested from his Ahmedabad, Gujarat residence.
The FIR casts its net very wide and makes the case that the time period of the offense ranged from Jan. 1, 2002 to Jun. 25, 2022. In effect every effort for justice for the victims of 2002, be it petitions filed in the High Court, Supreme Court, or the Magistrates’ Court is sought to be criminalized. The process, which should have made the state accountable in establishing guilt of those accused of serious crimes, is tarred with a criminal brush by criminalizing the quest for justice by the victims of the Gujarat pogroms. It also seeks to deter citizens from holding the state accountable for enabling violence in future, and in effect conveys that the state can do no wrong.
Immediately after these 2 arrests, the government also arrested a prominent journalist, Mohammed Zubair, the co- founder of the fact checking website AltNews.In. This too is reminiscent of the crackdown on journalists during the Emergency.
What the present government is doing is “Governance by Fear” in its rawest form. On the anniversary of the Emergency, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have the habit of issuing statements condemning the Emergency as a dark chapter in the history of independent India, one imposed to quell dissent and free voice. But both of them are doing much worse now, and the Setalvad case is a typical example.
We, the undersigned, condemn such acts of duplicity, hypocrisy and brazen injustice. We demand that this false and vindictive FIR be cancelled and Teesta Setalvad and others detained under it be released immediately.
Feroz Mehdi +1 (514) 834-7120
Sunita Viswanath +1 (917) 518-2441
Ubaid Shaikh +1 (516) 567-0783
Vinod Mubayi +1 (516) 380-3204