Contesting the claims of Gujarat Police and Delhi Police that Abdul Shakeel Basha, who was arrested on June 18 at R. K. Puram here, was a member of the banned CPI (Maoist), civil society groups on Wednesday said he was an activist who worked with NGOs like Aman Biradari, Haq and Shahri Adhikar Manch for homeless and street children.

Addressing a press conference here, social activists who came forward to vouch for Mr. Basha's credentials said he worked in Gujarat for the “Nyayagrah” campaign of Aman Biradari to secure justice for the victims of Gujarat violence.

They alleged that under the garb of anti-Maoist operations, the Union and State governments had launched “a witch hunt” against human rights groups using the “draconian provisions” of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004.

They said Shakeel was the fourteenth person to be arrested for Naxal links by the Gujarat Police based on an FIR lodged at the Kamrej police station in Surat district dated February 26 under various sections of the UAP Act. A copy of the FIR was also distributed to media persons.

Social activist Shabnam Hashmi of ANHAD alleged that the Gujarat Police were targeting anyone who showed dissent. The 13 people arrested before Shakeel were forest rights activists, trade unionists and ordinary workers, she said.

“With elections in Gujarat nearing, Chief Minister Narendra Modi has to find a new enemy as he can no more target Muslims easily. The Delhi Police Special Cell and the media swallowed the Gujarat Police version on Shakeel without verifying any details,” Ms. Hashmi alleged.

M. J. Vijayan of the National Alliance of People's Movements said the FIR used to arrest the 14 people was vague and had no mention of the criminal activities of the arrested persons, crime scenes or the name of even one person involved in the crime.

He pointed to a public interest litigation filed by Shakeel in 2005 on alleged police brutality on homeless children by the police at Connaught Place. “I don't know if a person who believes in Maoist ideologies would file PILs,” he added.

Activists Indu Prakash of Shahri Adhikar Manch and Tanveer Afaque of Haq, who worked alongside Shakeel for homeless children, said he was a friend to rag-pickers, rickshaw pullers and homeless children. “He always helped people in need. We were good friends and I have never heard him espouse violence,” said Mr. Afaque

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