Amnesty decries crackdown on activists

Amnesty decries crackdown on activists

A group of activists protest against the recent arrest of 5 rights activist by the Pune Poilce, at Pune Collectorate on Thursday, August 30, 2018. (PTI Photo)

The Amnesty International (AI) on Friday said India is fast becoming a dangerous place for those demanding accountability" from the State as it described the latest crackdown on activists as a "grave challenge" to the freedom to dissent.

In a statement, AI Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said the arrest of five activists earlier this week was an "extension of a crackdown on anyone" who is critical of the state.

"The crackdown on human rights defenders in India is a grave challenge to the freedom to dissent and violates constitutionally guaranteed human rights...India is fast becoming a dangerous place for those demanding accountability from the state. When hard-won rights to expression and peaceful protest are weakened, everyone stands to lose," Naidoo said.

Maharashtra Police on August 28 arrested five activists -- human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, activists Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira and poet-journalist Varavara Rao -- from different locations while they also searched premises of other activists, including Anand Teltumbde and Father Stan Swamy in connection with a probe into Bhima Koregaon violence.

Earlier in June, five others, including lawyer Surendra Gadling, Professor Shoma Sen and activists Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, and Mahesh Raut were arrested and slapped with provisions of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the same case.

"What is unfolding before our eyes is a pattern of crushing dissent by demonising and criminalising activists, lawyers and journalists working for some of the poorest and most marginalized communities in India. This raises huge questions over the government’s commitment to protect basic liberties," Naidoo said.

He said there has been a "sustained smear campaign" against these ten activists, accusing them of working against India and seeking to undermine years of crucial work they have done to cast light on injustice. "These arrests are an extension of a crackdown on anyone who is critical of the state," Naidoo, a South African activist of Indian descent, said.

In a joint statement on Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International India (AII) said the government should "cease politically motivated arrests and harassment" of human rights activists and other actions "aimed at chilling peaceful dissent".

"The latest arrests of human rights activists show the government’s widening assault on free speech to create an atmosphere of fear across India," said HRW South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly said.