Statement on sedition case filed against Amnesty International India:
According to media reports, the Bengaluru Police have filed a criminal case against Amnesty International India for organizing an event as part of a campaign to seek justice for human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. The event involved discussions with families from Kashmir, who were featured in a 2015 report, who had travelled to Bengaluru to narrate their personal stories of grief and loss.
The Newsminute has reported that a First Information Report was filed on the basis of a complaint filed by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student organization affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The FIR reportedly mentions a number of offences including ‘sedition’, ‘unlawful assembly’, ‘rioting’ and ‘promoting enmity’. Amnesty International India has not yet received a copy of the FIR.
“Merely organizing an event to defend constitutional values is now being branded ‘anti-India’ and criminalized,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director, Amnesty International India.
“The police were invited and present at the event. The filing of a complaint against us now, and the registration of a case of sedition, shows a lack of belief in fundamental rights and freedoms in India.”
Among those who spoke at the event were the family of Shahzad Ahmad Khan, one of the men killed in the Macchil extrajudicial execution, where five Army personnel were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Bengaluru Police were informed about the event well in advance. Amnesty International India also invited representation from the Kashmiri Pandit community in Bengaluru at the event to speak about the human rights violations faced by members of the community.
Towards the end of the event, some of those who attended raised slogans, some of which referred to calls for ‘Azaadi’ (freedom).
Amnesty International India as a matter of policy does not take any position in favour of or against demands for self-determination. However, Amnesty International India considers that the right to freedom of expression under international human rights law includes the right to peacefully advocate political solutions, as long as it does not involve incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
The Supreme Court has ruled that expression can be restricted on grounds of public order only when it involves incitement to imminent violence or disorder. India’s archaic sedition law has been used to harass and persecute activists and others for their peaceful exercise of their right to free expression.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code defines sedition as any act or attempt “to bring into hatred or contempt, or…excite disaffection towards the government.” Mahatma Gandhi had called the law “the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.”
Amnesty International India’s response to complaint filed by ABVP
On 15 August, a First Information Report was reportedly registered against Amnesty International India with regard to an event held on 13 August, based on a complaint filed by an ABVP representative.
The allegations mentioned in the complaint are without substance. They are preventing the families of victims of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir from having their stories heard. And preventing civil society organisations from enabling these families to exercise their constitutional right to justice.
Amnesty International India’s vision is for every person in India to enjoy the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, other international human rights standards, and the Constitution of India. We are independent of any political, economic or ideological interests.
The event was held as part of a campaign based on the report “Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir”, published in July 2015, and publicly available. The report documents the obstacles to justice faced in several cases of human rights violations believed to have been committed by Indian security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir. It focuses particularly on Section 7 of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 (AFSPA), which grants virtual immunity to members of the security forces from prosecution in civilian courts for alleged human rights violations.
The report was based on in-depth research in Jammu and Kashmir, including interviews with family members of victims, Right to Information applications, examination of police and court records, and interviews with civil society groups, lawyers, and government officials.
The families of three Kashmiri victims that were interviewed for the report were invited to share their stories at the event.
Below is a point-by-point rebuttal to the allegations raised in the complaint.
1) “Sindhujaa Iyengar, a political science lecturer at a private university in Bengaluru, Seema Mustafa and Roushan Illahi sang anti-national songs and raised anti-national slogans.”
Sindhujaa Iyengar is an employee of Amnesty International India. She was not present on stage at any point during the event. Seema Mustafa is a senior journalist. She moderated a discussion with affected families at the event. Neither of them sang any songs or raised any slogans at any point.
The only musical performance was a song by Roushan Illahi (also known as MC Kash) at the end of the event, about growing up amid violence in Kashmir.
Video footage of the event which was recorded by Amnesty International India has been shared with the police.
2) “Sindhujaa Iyengar, Seema Mustafa and Roushan Illahi…delivered anti-national speeches against soldiers.”
The only speech delivered at the event was by Amnesty International India’s Programmes Director, Tara Rao, which referred to allegations of human rights violations by security force personnel. These allegations are laid out in detail in Amnesty International India’s 2015 report, and have been widely reported and discussed. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is part of the current ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir, had welcomed the recommendations of the report when it was published.
The families who attended the event spoke of their own personal stories of loss, as per the programme of the event. One of the families who attended the event was that of Shahzad Ahmad Khan, one of the men killed in the Machil extra-judicial execution, for which five security force personnel were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Amnesty International India also invited R.K. Mattoo, a representative of the Kashmiri Pandit community in Bengaluru to speak about the human rights violations faced by members of the community.
3) “Slogans were raised that Indian Kashmir should be part of Pakistan.”
No Amnesty International India employee shouted any slogans at any point.
4) “The event indirectly supported terrorists.”
The only discussion at the event was about allegations of human rights violations and the denial of justice to families in Kashmir. These are issues that have regularly been discussed in the media. They have been written about at length by members of Parliament, politicians, judges and civil society. In July 2016, the Supreme Court, in a ruling relevant to the issues discussed at the event, stated that the armed forces do not enjoy impunity for human rights violations.
5) “The event…indirectly supported Pakistan and the ISI.”
The focus of the event was squarely on allegations of human rights violations and the denial of justice in Jammu and Kashmir.
Amnesty International has worked extensively on human rights violations in Pakistan, including the enforced disappearances and unlawful killings of political activists in Balochistan, violations by security forces in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) , and violence against journalists by groups including the ISI.
6) “When ABVP activists tried stopping the attack, people tried to assault them.”
No Amnesty International India employee was involved in any form of assault against anyone.
Towards the end of the event, some of those who attended raised slogans, some of which referred to calls for ‘Azaadi’ (freedom). Amnesty International India as a matter of policy does not take any position in favour of or against demands for self-determination. However, Amnesty International India considers that the right to freedom of expression includes the right to peacefully advocate political solutions
Amnesty International India had invited the Bengaluru police to be present at the event, in the interest of the security of the invited families and other attendees. We have shared our footage of the event with the police.
The Supreme Court of India has ruled on multiple occasions, notably in the case of Kedar Nath Singh versus State of Bihar, that speech would amount to sedition only if it involved incitement to violence or public disorder. The court ruled: “[C]riticism of public measures or comment on Government action, however strongly worded, would be within reasonable limits and would be consistent with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.”
In the case of Shreya Singhal versus Union of India, the Supreme Court ruled: “‘Mere discussion or even advocacy of a particular cause howsoever unpopular is at the heart of [the right to freedom of expression].” It stated that the right could be restricted “only when such discussion or advocacy reaches the level of incitement”.