Describing the sweeping raids and arrests of human rights activists as “systematic and pre-meditated crackdown”, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has slammed the government for it’s “concerted attempt” to crush human rights interventions and silence voices of dissent in the country.
The PUCL said that it believes that the intention of the government and the police in targeting the activists, by foisting false and fabricated cases against them, is clear and apparent from their profiles of work.
“All the 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 and marginalised sections of society against serious State violations and unscrupulous corporates,” PUCL said in a statement, adding that the “systematic and pre-meditated crackdown” signals the imposition of an “unofficial Emergency and is a direct attack on democracy”.
“This is a deliberate strategy of the State to target human rights activists in a clear act of reprisals against them for calling out the human rights violations by the State and the police, and to intimidate those who are fighting for justice,” it added.
“PUCL stands firmly in solidarity with advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, National Secretary, PUCL and the other human rights activists who face raids and have been arrested under false and fabricated charges,” the statement read, condemning the constant profiling of 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.
The nationwide crackdown on activists, advocates and human rights defenders is disturbing and threatens core human-rights values, Amnesty International India and Oxfam India said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
The response came hours after the Maharashtra police raided the homes of prominent left wing activists in several states and arrested at least five of them for suspected Maoist links. It sparked a chorus of outraged protests from several lawyers, academics and authors, some of whom termed the move "absolutely chilling" and others saying it amounted to a "virtual declaration of emergency".
"Today's arrests is the second of such crackdowns on rights activists, advocates and journalists who have been critical of the state. All these people have history of working to protect the rights of some of India's most poor and marginalised people. Their arrests raise disturbing questions about whether they are being targeted for their activism," said Aakar Patel, executive director, Amnesty International India.
The statement referred to the raids by the police which have resulted in arrests of Chhattisgarh-based human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, Maharashtra-based social activist Vernon Gonsalves, former secretary of People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) Gautam Navlakha, Maharashtra-based activist Arun Ferreira and Telangana journalist Varavara Rao, adding that it was "creating an atmosphere of fear".
"These arrests cannot become the order of the day. The government should protect people's rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear," said Amitabh Behar, the CEO of Oxfam India.
With PTI inputs