NEW DELHI The Pune police on Tuesday raided residences of prominent human rights activists in several states and arrested at least five of them for suspected Maoist links.
The raids were carried out as a part of investigaton into the violence between Dalits and the upper caste Peshwas at Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune after ‘Elgar Parishad’ event on December 31, 2017.
Searches were carried out at the home of activist and poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha, who lives in Delhi, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, human rights lawyer and trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj in Faridabad and Chhattisgarh, a senior police official told news agency PTI.
Subsequently, Rao, Bhardwaj, Farreira, Gonzalves and Navalakha were arrested under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 153 (A), which relates to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place or birth, residence, language and committing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony, said the official.
Some other sections of the IPC were also pressed against those arrested, along with Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for their “alleged naxal activities,” said the police official, without elaborating. The premises of Father Stan Swamy, a tribal leader in Jharkhand, too were searched but he was not detained, the official said.
In New Delhi, soon after Navalakha’s arrest, the Delhi High Court ordered police not to take him out of the national capital at least until Wednesday.
The high court was hearing a habeas corpus petition filed on behalf of Navalakha by his advocate Warisha Farasat after he was picked up from his Delhi home Tuesday afternoon by the Maharashtra police
Rao’s name had appeared in a letter seized by the police during searches at the premises of one of the five people arrested in June in connection with the Elgar Parishad event on December 31 last year to commemorate 200 years of the Koregaon Bhima battle in 1818.
According to unconfirmed reports, raids were also conducted at residences of Susan Abraham, Kranthi Tekula, Father Stan Swamy in Ranchi and Anand Teltumbde in Goa.
Today’s events mirrored simultaneous raids conducted in June when five activists were arrested in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence.
In June, Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale was arrested from his home in Mumbai, while lawyer Surendra Gadling, activist Mahesh Raut and Shoma Sen were picked up from Nagpur and Rona Wilson was arrested from his flat in Munirka in Delhi in simultaneous raids.
“During our investigation in connection with the Elgar Parishad event, some evidences came to light about members of a proscribed organisation, following which the policecarried out raids in Chhattisgarh, Mumbai and Hyderabad,” the police official told PTI.
The searches on Tuesday were conducted at homes of people having Maoist links and those directly or indirectly connected with the five arrested people, the official said.
The police claimed to have recovered “some incriminating documents” during the searches.
“We are also checking the financial transactions of these people, their modes of communication and also trying to gather technical evidence,” the police official said.
Outgoing joint commissioner of Pune police Ravindra Kadam, on August 2, said no Maoist link had been found in the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
‘Clear Declaration Of Emergency’
Tuesday’s arrests were condemned widely.
“Fascist fangs are now openly bared,” tweeted lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
“It is a clear declaration of emergency. They are going after anyone who has spoken against the government on rights issues. They are against any dissent,” Bhushan said.
Noted historian Ramachandra Guha called the action “absolutely chilling” and demanded the intervention of the Supreme Court to stop this “persecution and harassment” of independent voices.
The arrests are “a dangerous sign of a government that fears it is losing its mandate and is falling into panic. That lawyers, poets, writers, Dalit rights activists and intellectuals are being arrested on ludicrous charges … tells us very clearly where India is headed,” award-winning author Arundhati Roy told PTI.
Crackdown disturbing: Amnesty, Oxfam
The nationwide crackdown on activists, advocates and human rights defenders is disturbing and threatens core human-rights values, Amnesty International India and Oxfam India said in a joint statement today.
The response came hours after the Maharashtra police raided the homes of prominent Left-wing activists in several states and arrested at least five of them for suspected Maoist links. It sparked a chorus of outraged protests from several lawyers, academics and authors, some of whom termed the move “absolutely chilling” and others saying it amounted to a “virtual declaration of emergency”.
“Today’s arrests is the second of such crackdowns on rights activists, advocates and journalists who have been critical of the state. All these people have history of working to protect the rights of some of India’s most poor and marginalized people. Their arrests raise disturbing questions about whether they are being targeted for their activism,” said Aakar Patel, executive director, Amnesty International India.
The statement referred to the raids by the police which have resulted in arrests of Chhattisgarh-based human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, Maharashtra-based social activist Vernon Gonsalves, former secretary of People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) Gautam Navlakha, Maharashtra-based activist Arun Ferreira and Telangana journalist Varavara Rao, adding that it was “creating an atmosphere of fear”.
“These arrests cannot become the order of the day. The government should protect people’s rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear,” said Amitabh Behar, the CEO of Oxfam India.
Today’s raids were carried out as part of a probe into the violence between Dalits and the upper caste Peshwas at Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune after an event called Elgar Parishad, or conclave, on December 31 last year.
In June, five activists were arrested on the suspicion of inciting the caste-based violence on January 1. Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut were arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and several sections of the Indian Penal Code.
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