Washington, (DC ), June 30 (KMS): Leading multi-faith and civil society organizations from the Indian diaspora around the world unequivocally condemned the arrests of human rights defenders Teesta Setalvad and R. B. Sreekumar, as well as journalist Mohammed Zubair in India.
Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Sreekumar were both pivotal in bringing justice to the victims of the pogrom against Muslims in 2002 in Gujarat. Mohammed Zubair is the co-founder of fact-checking website AltNews.in. Their arrests by Indian police on trumped-up charges are clearly retribution for their activism and struggle for truth and justice.
Ms. Setalvad’s NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, was established to help victims prosecute officials, including then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, for the crimes of abetting the pogrom. She worked with Ms. Zakia Jafri, the widow of former Member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri, to pursue a case against Modi at the Supreme Court in 2013.
On February 28, 2002, Mr. Jafri had provided shelter to Muslims at his home in Ahmedabad city from a mob of Hindu extremists. Mr. Jafri made calls, including to Modi, to Gujarat officials but to no avail. The mob set his housing complex on fire, killing 69 people, including Mr. Jafri. Ms. Jafri has maintained that Modi top Gujarat officials conspired in that violence. On June 25, however, India’s Supreme Court dismissed the case and virtually accused Ms. Setalvad of a “conspiracy” against Modi.
Hours later, Ms. Setalvad was arrested in Mumbai after Home Minister Amit Shah, Modi’s second-in-command, publicly accused her of fabricating evidence and coaching Ms. Jafri to provide false testimony. Ms. Setalvad’s arrest is unmistakably politically motivated by Modi and Shah who stand the most to lose from her work.
Former Director General of Gujarat Police R. B. Sreekumar, who testified that law enforcement were complicit in the pogrom, was also arrested on June 26. Former Indian Police Service Officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who is serving a life sentence on other bogus charges, was also named in the First Information Report (FIR) against Mr. Sreekumar. Mr. Bhatt’s real crime was highlighting Modi’s complicity in the Gujarat pogrom.
The arrest of Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Sreekumar shows the Supreme Court lacks independence. It sets a dangerous precedent that will discourage individuals from petitioning the Supreme Court with complaints against the Government.
It must be recalled that the US had punished Modi for his complicity in the anti-Muslim pogrom when the George W. Bush Administration denied him a US visa in 2005 designating him as an Individual of Particular Concern.
Zubair’s arrest is an assault on freedom of the press and, indeed, on citizens’ right to the truth. Zubair, who is a co founder of the fact checking website AltNews.in, has played a key role in demolishing falsehoods spread by Hindu nationalists connected with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and its fascist paramilitary ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The arrests are a stark reminder that the US must actively and publicly combat India’s descent into fascism. Like with other arrested activists such as Anand Teltumbde, Javed Mohammed, Parveen Fatima and Umar Khalid, India’s government has arrested and is attempting to silence Setalvad, Sreekumar, Bhatt and Zubair.
The list of the Indian Diaspora organizations include Indian American Muslim Council, USA, India Civil Watch International, USA, Hindus for Human Rights, USA, Dalit Solidarity Forum, USA, Ambedkar King Study Circle, USA, Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, UK, Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians (AAPI), New Zealand, Boston South Asian Coalition, USA, Coalition Against Fascism in India, USA, CERAS (Centre sur l’Asie du sud / South Asia Center), Canada, Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), Aotearoa New Zealand, The Humanism Project, Australia, International Council of Indian Muslims, Worldwide, India Justice Project, Berlin, Germany, India Solidarity Germany, Germany, Indian Solidarity Finland, Finland, International Solidarity For Academic Freedom, Worldwide, International Society for Peace and Justice, USA, Scottish Indians for Justice, United Kingdom, South Asian Diaspora Action Collective, Canada, South Asia Solidarity Group, UK, Justice for All, Canada, Coalition of Seattle Indian Americans (CSIA), USA, Council on Minority Rights in India (CMRI), USA, Community Rights Council of Piscataway, USA, People Against Apartheid and Fascism, South Africa, Ambedkarite Buddhist Association of Texas (ABAT), USA and Periyar International USA.