Civil Society Members Close Ranks to Secure Release of Anti-CAA Activists

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Jamia student activists were at the forefront of Anti-CAA protests that swept across India before outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic. File pic.

Mohd Aasif | Clarion India

NEW DELHI—Condemning selective arrests and witch-hunting of the anti-CAA activists by Delhi Police, Social activists from different walks of life demanded immediate release of all the student activists.

Speaking at an online press conference, prominent personalities and civil rights activists, Prashant Bhushan, Teesta Setalvad, Prof Apoorvanand Jha, Prof Manoj Jha, Kavita Krishnan, Navaid Hamid Prof Mohammad Salim Engineer came down heavily on the crackdown on the students calling it a desperate attempt by the police to make them sign on blank papers and turn approvers. This, they said was particularly disturbing and highly illegal.

Added to this, they said the use of the draconian Unlwful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to intimidate students and activists of a peaceful democratic movement is abominable and highly condemnable.

Over and above, they criticised the timing of the arrests which coincided with the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic the consequent lockdown clamped on the entire country.

In this context, Kavita Krishnan, general secretary of All India Progressive Women Association, drew the attention of the audience towards an irony. She said, “On the one hand, courts and governments in India and other countries have ordered evacuation of jails, while on the other, police in India are busy carrying out political arrests,” she said.

The trend of arresting anti-CAA protestors on multiple FIRs, according to Nadeem Khan, founder of United Against Hate, has set a wrong precedent. When a person gets bail in one case, he/she are arrested on the basis of a different FIR.

Khan said, “Delhi Police, as they claim, have filed as many as 700 FIRs, but the crime branch seems to be interested only in one FIR i.e. 59/2020.”

Kavita Krishnan came down heavily on the government for enacting the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) which the police are using as a weapon against innocent students. She called it a ‘black law’ that vests excessively arbitrary powers with the police force. “The police no longer have to show any evidence under the law. Young leaders are being targeted and locked up for indefinite periods of time,” she lamented.

prominent civil society held a virtual meeting on Thursday to pitch for the release of arrested activists

Attributing the current situation to prevalence of a ‘police raj’ in the country, Teesta Setalvad, renowned human rights activist and journalist, said, “Lack of transparency in the functioning of the police department is a reflection on the failure of the system.”

Prof Apoorvanand, giving a chronology of events leading to the arrests, said, “The Delhi Police is trying to build a narrative of violent anti-CAA protesters. However, the story is going the other way around.”

According to sources, one of the friends of Asif, who went to deliver clothes, informed he had been beaten up by Special Cell officials on May 16. “Asif informed one of his close friends on phone from jail that he was beaten up by a jail munshi simply because he was a Jamia student,” disclosed a source.

In view of the political arrests made by Delhi Police, Prof Salim Engineer questioned the role of the government. “The Government,” he said, “is covertly pushing its divisive agenda. The police is mere a tool in the hands of the government to carry forward its communal political designs.”

Most of the accused activists have been booked under the harsh UAPA which is supposed to be invoked while deal with the cases of terrorism. Prof Manoj Jha, a member of Parliament (MP), said that Covid-19 pandemic has been used to bring about ‘authoritarianism’ in the country.

Shedding light on the functioning of online courts during lockdown, he said, “An order is issued without proper hearing of arguments of lawyers.”

Prashant Bhushan, an eminent lawyer and activist, wondered, “Why can’t they conduct proper court proceedings while maintaining social distancing? Video conferences won’t help proper hearing, nor will they ensure justice delivery.”

Commenting on the way the Delhi Police is carrying out investigations, Prashant Bhushan said, “It is not an investigation of a conspiracy but a conspiracy of investigation.”

Anti-CAA activists currently under police detention

Although majority of the victims in the Delhi riots who lost their lives and livelihoods were Muslims, all the arrested persons under this FIR so far are Muslims. “This clearly shows the prejudiced behaviour of the Delhi Police and how they are using the pretext of the Delhi riots to target, frame and witch hunt anti-CAA activists,” said Teesta Setalvad.

“The insensitivity of the Delhi Police is clear from the fact that they have arrested Safoora Zargar who is in the second trimester of her pregnancy and are refusing to release her,” she pointed out.

The Delhi Police continued to summon the activists at the Special Cell office even after one of their head constables was found COVID positive. “We have also come to know that the Delhi Police are constantly pressuring and harassing the activists called for interrogation to turn ‘approvers’ for them,” said Nadeem Khan.

Recalling the horror of Delhi Police crackdown on Jamia campus, Prashant Bhushan said a case of vandalism of library of Jamia Millia Islamia that demanded investigation was filed. But it has been swept under the rug. “Delhi Police must be held responsible for violence occurred in Jawaharlal Nehru University and in northeast Delhi,” he added.

The silence of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and National Minority Commission were questioned at the press meet. Navaid Hamid, president of All India Muslim Majlis e Mushawarat, demanded the resignation of the officials of both the organisations. Questioning the intent of the government, he said, “UAPA has been brought to target minorities and Dalit.”

Meanwhile, Asif Iqbal Tanha, the latest victim of vindictive police crackdown on anti-CAA activists, has been, on Wednesday, shifted from judicial custody to a seven-day police remand on the order of Special Judge Ajay Kumar Jain. His police remand is scheduled to end on May 27.

“In view of the averments made in the application, accused Asif Iqbal Tanha is remanded to police custody till May 27, 2020. The jail superintendent concerned is directed to hand over the custody of accused Asif Iqbal Tanha to the Investigation Officer or ACP,” reads the court order.

On May 16, Asif Iqbal Tahna was summoned by the Special Cell of Delhi Police for interrogation and a day after, he was arrested by the Crime Branch of Chanakypuri, Delhi. He was produced before a magistrate and declared arrested in connection with a case pertaining to violence occurred near Jamia on December 15, 2019.

After arresting him, the police sought police Custody of Asif. However, the judge refused to entertain their request as they had already interrogated him for days and have not come up with a chargesheet in the case.

The police responded by saying that the role of Asif in the case is yet to be ascertained without which they won’t be able to file a chargesheet against him. Convinced by the contention of the police, the judge sent Asif to a 14-Day judicial custody.

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