NEW DELHI – Former Judges and experts of the United Nations have condemned the police action taken against the anti-CAA activists and human rights defenders by the Bharatiya Janata Party governments for raising their voice against the Central government.
Former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur, former chief justice of the Delhi High Court AP Shah, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor and Aida Martirous Nejad (India desk of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) expressed their concerns in no uncertain terms while speaking during a side event to the current session of the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.
The event was organised by the International Commission of Jurists along with the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch. Prominent speakers elaborated on how the government targeted the anti-CAA protesters and the dissenters and how the justice system failed in protecting their rights to dissent.
Justice AP Shah explained how the Citizenship Amendment Act was unconstitutional and why the protest against the CAA, NRC and NPR was a positive development given the commitment of the protesters towards the Constitution. However, he deplored the way the government tried to silence the protesters.
“The government is trying to silence protesters, liberally slapping criminal charges of rioting, unlawful assembly, sedition, criminal conspiracy. Police have license to run riot against – by and large – peaceful protesters, by arresting them, destroying vehicles, and even entering homes,” Shah was quoted by The Quint as saying.
Former IPS officer S R Darapuri narrated his tale of woe describing what he went through when he raised voice against the CAA. He was put under house arrest and later arrested without legal approval by the magistrate.
He said that the magistrate did not find suitable ground to arrest him but the police subverted the magistrate’s decision by declaring that the magistrate was ill, and, therefore unavailable. He said that in the jail, he was not given food and blanket on the first night despite freezing cold.
However, after he came out of the jail on the bail, the government was making him to pay for the property allegedly damaged during protest.
Former Supreme Court Judge Lokur said that from the very beginning when the protests started, the concerns were raised on the way the government was responding to dissent, the way the Supreme Court failed in protecting the rights of the protesters while hearing over 150 petitions filed against the CAA.
“If the Supreme Court doesn’t act, or doesn’t act in time, what is going to be the effect down the line with the lower courts,” he questioned. He also expressed grave concern over invocation of anti-terror law UAPA against the activists.
“You don’t have to use serious offences like sedition. This is a sledgehammer approach, where you are trying to scare the opposition, and it is this approach which is frightening,” said Lokur.
“It’s the principle of law that we are concerned with. Can you impose Section 144 just because you have the power? Can you impose internet restrictions, just because you have the power? Can you file these multiple FIRs, just because you can?,” he asked.
Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor and UNHCHR representative Aida Martirous-Nejad also were worried over the situation of human rights defenders in India.
Lawlor observed that the targeting of human rights defenders (HRDs) in India didn’t start with COVID and the anti-CAA protests. For years, HRDs have faced severe threats of violence, judicial reprisals, with women HRDs even receiving threats of sexual assault, acid attacks and the like.
“It’s no great shock that the Indian government has not protected the rights of HRDs in accordance with India’s obligations under international law, given this long history,” she underlined.
She lambasted the government for filing false charges and for wrongful detention of the peaceful protesters against the CAA.
“India is on the Human Rights Council, but is clearly violating its obligations under international law,” she noted.