UN Special Rapporteur of Human Rights Defenders (HRD) Mary Lawlor on Thursday said that the Indian government was trying to “criminalise human rights defenders” by booking them under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
She was speaking at a virtual meet for ‘Global Solidarity With Defenders of the Indian Constitution’ held to express support for anti-CAA protesters booked under the UAPA.
The meeting was organised by a host of organisations, including #TheWorldIsWatchingIndia and The London Story, a foundation monitoring disinformation, misinformation and hate speech.
Ms. Lawlor condemned the abuse of the UAPA and said, “It is particularly distressing that anti-CAA protesters who have been booked under the UAPA and denied bail are all from the minority community and are subject to crowded and unsanitary conditions in the prisons they are held in.” She added that the Delhi High Court has repeatedly sighted the lack of any factual evidence material in the chargesheets, to back up the police’s theory that the anti-CAA protests were part of a larger conspiracy, to cause terror in India.
Family members of the arrested were also in attendance and expressed what they had been through over the last 2.5 years. Noor Jehan, mother of the accused Athar Khan, said, “I want to say, proudly, I am an Indian Muslim. It is a matter of pride for me and my son. This is despite my belief that the status of Muslims in India, today, has become close to mere vote-banks.”
Saima Khan, the daughter of the accused, Mohammed Salim Khan, said that she had to drop out of college and work two jobs to support the family after her father was arrested. “They have deemed my father anti-national and say that we are a family of terrorists. All he did was run an NGO to help the needy and poor people.”
Other speakers included HRD programme director Delphine Reculeau, editor of Maverick Citizen Mark Heywood, Bangladeshi activist Shahidul Alam and former Australian Senator Lee Rhiannon.
“If you wonder how a protester or anyone can be detained as a terrorist, it is because the Indian police gets away with presenting little genuine evidence to the court and bail is impossible to get. The Indian government is using the UAPA not to curtail violence but to harass and jail protesters, activists or anyone that speaks out on their activities”, said Ms. Rhiannon.