Stop the witch-hunt of activists and journalists in Delhi and Kashmir and repeal the draconian UAPA

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Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) endorses and forwards statement issued by Campaign Against State Repression calling upon the authorities to stop witch-hunt of activists and journalists in Delhi and Kashmir and repeal the draconian Unlaful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

April 24th 2020: Over the last two weeks, across New Delhi, numerous activists and students have been targeted and harassed by the Delhi Police. Operating under an open-ended FIR, the police are attempting to accuse these persons, many of whom are engaged in providing indispensable relief work to workers and people bereft of food and other supplies due to the ill-planned COVID-19 induced lockdown, of instigating and executing the violence that engulfed North East Delhi in late February 2020. Three activists, Meeran Haidar and Safoora Zargar of Jamia Millia Islamia and Umar Khalid, former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, have now been charged under several sections of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Indian Penal Code (IPC).

These charges must not be seen as isolation. Rather, they are continuation of the numerous methods by which the State has sought to crush the vibrant struggle for democratic rights that emerged from the opposition to the communally charged and anti-people Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Registry of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR). It must be noted here that by accusing these persons of orchestrating the violence in North East Delhi, the State is in fact perpetrating an absolute travesty of justice.

That the violence which wracked North East Delhi was orchestrated is indisputable. However, its real perpetrators and planners not only remain free but also bask under the protection of the police and the administration. BJP leaders like Anurag Thakur, Kapil Mishra and Ragini Tiwari who have been recorded making inflammatory and communally charged speeches, urging violence against Muslims and all those opposing the CAA, NRC and NPR have not even been questioned. The numerous RSS and Bajrang Dal karyakartas involved in mobilising and leading the Hindutva mob that ransacked North East Delhi remain unprosecuted. The innumerable police personnel who viciously attacked Muslim youth and actively aided the Hindutva mob, continue to patrol the streets with impunity, and now brutalise the hapless and starving residents of Delhi in search of food and other rations.

While all this happens in the Capital, the situation in Kashmir is equally dire if not worse. While the lockdown in India commenced on 22nd March 2020, Kashmir has been under lockdown since the abrogation of Article 370 on 5th August 2019, causing immeasurable physical and mental harm to the Kashmiri people. The lack of mobility, scarcity of resources, restrictions on information, disruptions to work and education that people across the country face today has been a fixture in the lives of Kashmiris for the last 9 months. Furthermore, the country wide dearth of medical facilities is even more pronounced in the Kashmir Valley where the doctor to patient ratio is drastically below the country-wide average. Journalists like Masrat Zahra, Mushtaq Ganaie and Gowhar Geelani who have attempted to document the difficulties faced by the Kashmiri people, particularly during the spread of the COVID-19 virus, have faced the ire of the State and are charged under sections of UAPA and IPC. Notably, Peerzada Ashiq, a journalist who exposed the diversion of COVID-19 kits from Kashmir to Jammu has been similarly charged. It is a grave reflection of our times that even the performance of journalistic duties is deemed a terrorist act.

Targeting and marginalising Muslims on the Indian mainland and militarily repressing Kashmiris are nothing new for the Indian State. However, at a time when the material conditions of the broad masses have deteriorated severely and the State has adopted a Brahmanical Hindutva Fascist character, these actions must be viewed as part of the larger narrative of establishing the Hindu Rashtra. Efforts to degrade Muslims to second-class citizen status, attempted via the CAA, NRC and NPR, have continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The labeling of the Nizamuddin Markaz as part of a “Corona Jihad”, the boycott of Muslim essential service providers and the denial of medical care to Muslims, including pregnant Muslim women, are all part and parcel of these efforts. Mainstream media has drilled this communal narrative into the public discourse feeding prejudice and bigotry with sensationalist headlines and dubious reporting.

Today, a large section of the Indian masses face the dual risk of infection and starvation due to the BJP led Central Government’s refusal to bear responsibility to provide food and other rations during the lockdown. At such a time, when an eruption of popular anger against this complete disregard for the material conditions of the masses is possible, BJP led Central and State Governments and their lackeys in the mainstream media have made every effort to divert this anger towards the Muslim community. This narrative is being portrayed throughout the country in relation to COVID-19 and additionally in Delhi with regard to the violence in North East Delhi. This is a narrative that all democratic and progressive forces must condemn and combat.

Finally, it must be noted that the branding and targeting activists to demoralise and crush the movements they belong to is a tactic that the State is deploying with increasing frequency and intensity. Be it in the arrest of eleven academics, activists, lawyers, journalists and poets in the Elgaar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case or the incarceration of Akhil Gogoi, Chingiz Khan, Ishrat Jahan, Dr. Kafeel Khan, Khalid Saifi, Sharjeel Imam and now several more, it is evident that the State is becoming more and more intolerant of any dissent or opposition. At such times, it is imperative that democratic and progressive voices speak out, else risk being silenced forever.

Campaign Against State Repression urges democratic and progressive organisations and individuals to condemn these charges against activists, journalists and students, demand that the arrested be released and the witch-hunt be ceased.

1. Immediately stop the witch-hunt of activists and journalists in Delhi and Kashmir under the draconian UAPA.
2. Immediate release of all arrested activists and political prisoners in fabricated cases particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. Immediate action (with restrain in light of COVID-19) against all the perpetrators of violence in North-East Delhi under the garb of cracking down on Anti-CAA protests.
4. Repeal of all draconian laws including UAPA, NSA and PSA, among others.

Campaign Against State Repression
(Organising Team: AISA, AISF, APCR, BCM, Bhim Army, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, BSCEM, CEM, CRPP, CTF, Disha, DISSC, DSU, DTF, IAPL, IMK, Karnataka Janashakti, KYS, Lokpaksh, LSI, Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, Mazdoor Patrika, Mehnatkash Mahila Sangathan, Morcha Patrika, NAPM, NBS, NCHRO, Nowruz, NTUI, People’s Watch, Rihai Manch, Samajwadi Janparishad, Satyashodak Sangh, SFI, United Against Hate, WSS)

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