American Bar Association reminds India of its international obligations
NEW DELHI – The case of Safoora Zargar, the 27-year-old Jamia Milia Islamia scholar and anti-CAA protester, has drawn international attention. The Centre for Human Rights of the American Bar Association (ABA) has reminded the government of its international obligations and appealed for her immediate release from detention.
“International law, including treaties to which India is a State party, only permit pre-trial detention under narrow circumstances which do not appear to have been met in Ms. Zargar’s case,” said a report published on the Centre’s website.
Zargar, a pregnant woman, was arrested on April 10 on charges of blocking a road near northeast Delhi’s Jaffrabad Metro Station during a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in late February. After getting bail in the original case, Zargar was re-arrested on April 13 under the provisions of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and accused of being part of a conspiracy behind the Delhi riots of February.
Last week, Delhi’s Patiala house court denied her bail. While dismissing the bail petition, Judge Dharmendra Rana said: “When you choose to play with embers, you cannot blame the wind to have carried the spark a bit too far and spread the fire. The acts and inflammatory speeches of the co-conspirators are admissible u/s 10 of the Indian Evidence even against the applicant/accused.”
Human rights organisations throughout the country criticised the rejection of her bail application. Now an international body has stepped in. “Based on a preliminary review of the proceedings to date, the ABA Center for Human Rights has determined that her detention does not appear to meet international human rights standards,” the Centre said in a preliminary report on the case.
“Regardless of whether Ms. Zargar’s detention was properly justified under normal circumstances, it is likely unreasonable in light of her pregnancy and the risk of contracting the novel Coronavirus. The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (also known as the Bangkok Rules) concludes that non-custodial means should be preferred for pregnant women during the pre-trial phase wherever that is possible or appropriate,” said the report.
The Centre also expressed concern about overcrowding at Tihar Prison, where Safoora Zargar is lodged, and COVID-19 infections there. The report also took note of an interview of Zargar ’s sister in which she has said that she (Zargar) has polycystic ovary syndrome, of which one of the health effects is high blood pressure. High blood pressure patients are one of the populations at greater risk for contracting COVID-19.”
The American Bar Association also pointed to character assassination of Safoora Zargar on social media. “In addition to her legal issues, Zargar has also been the victim of a slanderous online campaign, including falsified and explicit images of her being shared online and through WhatsApp messenger,” the report stated.
Ever since her arrest a vilification campaign against Zargar has been led by right-wing forces on social media. They even made false claims that she was unmarried and her pregnancy was discovered in jail when she underwent for Coronavirus test.
The American Bar Association was founded in 1878 with the aim of “advancing the rule of law across the United States and beyond by providing practical resources for legal professionals, law school accreditation, model ethics codes and more”. According to its website, the American Bar Association is one of the “world’s largest voluntary professional organisations, with nearly 400,000 members and more than 3,500 entities”.