UN panel sees ‘mala fide intentions’ in Safoora Zargar’s arrest, pattern in booking activists in UAPA
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention highlights that the student activist’s political views and beliefs regarding the government’s policies were ‘at the heart of her arrest’
A UN expert panel has suggested that the government must ensure compensation and other reparations to Jamia Millia Islamia University student activist Safoora Zargar as she was arbitrarily arrested by the Narendra Modi government for allegedly playing a role in the northeast Delhi violence last year.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), under the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, requested India to take steps necessary to remedy Zargar's situation without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms, including those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The observations were made in an opinion adopted at its 89th session in November, which were made public on March 11.
“The Working Group considers that taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to accord Ms Zargar an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law,” said WGAD in its report.
The report said that Zargar had suffered a “deprivation of liberty” contravening “universally recognised human rights, in particular the right to freedoms of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly” and several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The report highlighted that Zargar’s political views and beliefs regarding the government’s policies “are at the heart” of her arrest. It asked the Indian government to ensure a “a full and independent investigation” of the case and to take action against those responsible for the “violation of her rights”.
Zargar was arrested in April last year by the Delhi Police and booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in connection with the communal violence that swept across north-east Delhi in February 2020, killing 53 persons and injuring more than 200.
The Delhi Police has claimed that the communal violence was at the behest of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protestors to defame the Narendra Modi government.
She was released later as the government didn't oppose her bail plea apparently on humanitarian grounds. The government though had claimed that its decision to not oppose bail for Zargar should not be seen as a reflection on the merits of the case.
The UN panel report stated that there was no legal basis for Zargar’s detention as the police arrested her in an “irregular manner” and she was detained for an alleged offence for which she is not named, and the complainant in that case is the police. The panel noted that “there was no necessity for an urgent arrest of the student activist, however serious the charges”, given that she was pregnant.
The Working Panel report underscores that “as soon as she was granted bail under First Investigation Report No. 48/2020, she was re-arrested under First Investigation Report No. 59/2020. This clearly shows the mala fide intentions of the authorities and Delhi Police to keep her in custody for longer.”
The UN panel said that the offences pertaining to the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, the Arms Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act were added after her arrest. It observed there has been “a general pattern” of charging activists under the provisions of the UAPA in India.