A memorandum for Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, was submitted to Resident Commissioner, Maharashtra Sadan, New Delhi, by civil society activists, following a protest meet organized by the National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM). It has demanded immediate stopping of unlawful police raids and arrests of activists, even as revoking false charges imposed against them. Text:
We strongly protest the unlawful arrests of 5 human rights activists and police raids at the houses of Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, Father Stan Swamy, Senior Writer and Poet Varavara Rao, his two daughters and son-in-laws, ‘The Hindu’ journalist KV Kumaranath, Prof. Satyanarayan from EFLU, ‘Namaste Telangana’ journalist Kranthi Tekula, Gautam Navlakha (Founder Memeber, PUDR), Writer Vernon Gonzalves, Anand Teltumbde (General Secretary, CPDR), Arun Ferreira and Advocate Susan Abraham. We assert that the arrests and raids are nothing but a targeted crackdown and attack by the police and state on civil liberties and democratic rights activists across the country in a concerted attempt to crush human rights interventions and silence voices of dissent.
On the 28th of August, in a coordinated operation, days before the 90 day period for judicial custody period of the five arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case end, several well known academics, lawyers, writers, poets, priests and journalists have been arrested and their homes raided by the police. Just under three months following the arrests of Professor Shoma Sen, Advocate Surendra Gadling, activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut, the Maharashtra police appear to be persistently cracking down on all voices that have stood in solidarity with them. Despite the fact that no incriminating evidence has emerged in these cases, with no respect or regard for the law, the police continues to arbitrarily arrest and detain activists, lawyers, writers and professionals who have dedicated their lives to ensure that justice is served where it is due.
Following orders sent by the Swargate police station in Pune, all of those targeted through raids and arrests today have the following charges against them IPC Section 153, 505, 117,120B; UAPA Sections 13, 16, 18, 18b, 20, 38, 39, 40. These charges include promoting enmity between people, public mischief, abetting commission of offences, criminal conspiracy, unlawful activities, terrorist acts, raising funds for terrorist acts, recruiting for terrorist acts, being members of terrorist organisations, support for terrorist organisations and providing funds for terrorist organisations.
With these charges, the police are making all efforts to brand democratic activists as terrorists and ensure that they are kept in custody for extended periods of time. It is well known that the use of draconian laws like UAPA in cases, when contested in court, invariably fall apart. But the time spent by those charged under these laws is meant as a punishment even if they are eventually acquitted of all charges. On the other side, the police filed cases against the head of Hindu Ekta Manch, Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, chief of the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan for allegedly instigating the violence on Dalits on 3 January 2018.
However, while Ekbote was released on bail soon after being arrested in March, Bhide has not yet been arrested, despite a Supreme Court order demanding his arrest. Thus, the tactics of the police force is clear. It is meant, now, not merely to spread a sense of fear amongst all those who oppose its brutal ways but as retribution for daring to speak out. This coordinated effort to harass and malign human rights activists all over the country is intended solely to create a sense of terror amidst the democratic people of this country and must be seen as a war against democracy.
We believe that the intention of the state and police in targeting the aforesaid human rights activists by foisting false and fabricated cases against them is clear and apparent from their profiles of work. All the aforesaid human rights activists targeted in this multi-city “operation” by the police have been tirelessly involved in advocating the cause and fighting for the rights of the most poor, marginalized sections of society against serious state violations and unscrupulous corporates. They have stood for the principles of human rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution and the international standards on human rights.
We strongly condemn the actions of the state and police. This simultaneous crackdown against human rights activists across the country signals the imposition of an unofficial Emergency in our nation and is a direct attack on Indian democracy. This is a deliberate strategy of the state to target noted human rights activists in a clear act of reprisals against them for calling out the human rights violations by the state and police, and to intimidate those who are fighting for justice.
In light of the above, we make the following urgent demands:
- We call upon the state and the police to immediately and unconditionally release human rights activists, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navalakha, Anand Teltumbde, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, and Vernon Gonsalves and withdraw the false and fabricated case against them;
- We call upon the State to immediately stop the simultaneous multi-city raids and imposition of false and fabricated accusations and charges against them. Strong action must be taken against the police officers responsible for framing of such serious charges without evidence against the human rights defenders.
- We also demand to revoke the false and fabricated charges on the 5 activists (Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut) illegally arrested in June 2018.
- We further condemn the constant profiling of the human rights activists as “Urban Naxals/ Maoists” and criminalisation of human rights activists working tirelessly against the state’s anti-people actions and policies, in an attempt to malign them and influence public sentiment.