BANGALORE: Indian police have charged Amnesty International with sedition after several Kashmiris allegedly called for independence for the troubled region at an event organised by the rights group, police said Tuesday.
Police in the southern city of Bangalore filed the initial charges against Amnesty following complaints by a Hindu nationalist student organisation whose members recorded the event.
“We have booked a case of sedition and rioting under various sections of the Indian penal code against Amnesty on a complaint that anti-India slogans were raised at an event it organised,” said deputy police commissioner T R Suresh.
“We are investigating the complaint and checking a video to ascertain the charges and identify those who raised the slogans for culpability,” Suresh told AFP.
Sedition charges, which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, have been used previously against supporters of independence for Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both.
The case comes at a particularly sensitive time, with large parts of Kashmir under curfew following weeks of deadly violence between protesters and security forces.
"No Amnesty International India employee shouted any slogans at any point," Amnesty International India said in a statement on Saturday's event in Bangalore.
"The focus of the event was squarely on allegations of human rights violations and the denial of justice in Jammu and Kashmir."
Rights campaigners have long accused India’s governments of using the British-era sedition law to clamp down on dissent. Sedition carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, although convictions are rare.
At Saturday’s forum at the United Theological College in Bangalore, Kashmiri families spoke of abuses by security forces.
Members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, aligned with ruling BJP, said some Kashmiris taking part had used pro-freedom slogans.
Amnesty India criticised the charges, saying police had been invited to monitor the event which was organised to discuss the rights of those living in the Himalayan region.
“The filing of a complaint against us now, and the registration of a case of sedition, shows a lack of belief in fundamental rights and freedoms in India,” Amnesty International India executive director Aakar Patel said in a statement late Monday.
SC against applying law without sufficient cause
Sedition charges were filed even as Supreme Court, making it categorically clear that this section will not be invoked unless the allegedly seditious speech or act leads to violence or creates public disorder.
In its judgment in the landmark Balwant Singh and Another v State Of Punjab case (1995), the Supreme Court also took the police to task for using this section without proper application of mind.
The Bench observed, “In situations like that, over-sensitiveness sometimes is counter-productive and can result is inviting trouble,” adding, “Raising of some lonesome slogans, a couple of times by two individuals, without anything more, did not constitute any threat to the Government of India… (nor) could (it) give rise to feelings of enmity or hatred among different communities…”
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