‘Release Teesta, Sreekumar’: Eminent Canadians, including Margaret Atwood, urge Indian President, CJ

Over 50 eminent jurists, authors, activists, among others have expressed concern over ‘India’s diminishing democracy’

Ottawa, July 23 (KMS): Over 50 eminent personalities from Canada, including writer Margaret Atwood, have expressed concern over “India’s diminishing democracy”, requesting President Ramnath Kovind and Chief Justice N.V. Ramana to immediately release activist Teesta Setalvad and retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, R.B. Sreekumar.

Teesta Setalvad and R.B. Sreekumar were arrested for pointing to the role of the then Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, in 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the Indian state of Gujarat. Teesta also challenged in the Indian Supreme Court the Special Investigation Team’s clean chit to 64 people, including then chief minister Narendra Modi, in the riots case.

In their letters to the president and CJI of India, they said, “The circumstances surrounding their arrest and detention would indicate that due legal process and political activism have been troublingly conflated. Such actions threaten the international reputation of the country you head, which for decades has been respected as a secular, democratic republic guided and governed by the rule of law, and the reputation of the Supreme Court of India and the Indian judiciary, which for decades has been respected as an upholder of the rule of law and the secular, democratic constitution of the country.”

“Defending human rights is not a crime,” South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly, said. “These arrests are clearly reprisals for pursuing justice for victims of the Gujarat riots and attempting to hold those who were in power accountable.”

The signatories of the letters include jurists, writers, artists, civil society organisers, and public intellectuals like Naomi Klein, Peter Leuprecht, Judy Rebick, Yavar Hameed, and Rohinton Mistry.

At a press conference in Canada, Pearl Eliadis, a human rights lawyer and one of the signatories to the letter, said that international solidarity against repression, such as these letters by eminent Canadians, is most important.

“It’s extremely important that governments be held accountable. […] the best way of doing that is to have the international searchlight of accountability pointed at them to make sure that there is no impunity for grave violations of human rights as have taken place in this particular instance,” Eliadis said.

The overwhelming sentiment at the press conference was that dissent is a hallmark of democracy, enshrined in democratic constitutions and democratic governance, and it was hoped that initiatives such as this reach the authorities and persuade them to drop their pursuit of charges against activist Teesta Setalvad and retired IPS officer R.B. Sreekumar and release them on bail forthwith.

The Supreme Court had on June 24 dismissed a plea challenging the Special Investigation Team’s clean chit to 64 people, including then chief minister Narendra Modi, in the 2002 Gujarat riots case. The plea was filed by Zakia Jafri, whose husband was murdered during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Setalvad’s NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, took up several Gujarat riot cases, including the Gulberg Society case, where the petitioner had accused Prime Minister Modi and others.

“As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with the law,” the apex court had said.

Within a day after the apex court’s ruling, Setalvad was arrested.

The letters and the list of signatories are reproduced below.

Letter to the President of India

The Hon. Ram Nath Kovind
President
Republic of India
Rashtrapati Bhavan
New Delhi 110 004
India
presidentofindia@rb.nic.in

21 July 2022
Your Excellency,

We write with concern and urgency in the matter of the recent arrest and detention of Ms. Teesta Setalvad and Mr. R.B. Sreekumar.

The circumstances surrounding their arrest and detention would indicate that due legal process and political activism have been troublingly conflated. Such actions threaten the international reputation of the country you head, which for decades has been respected as a secular, democratic republic guided and governed by the rule of law.

We, therefore, call on you to intervene with all speed, so that all charges against Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Sreekumar be dropped and that they be released from custody forthwith.

Sincerely,

The list of signatories

Gisele Amantea, artist
Patricia Aldana, Member of the Order of Canada; Chair, IBBY Trust
Margaret Atwood, writer
Dr. Rachel Berger, Associate Professor of History, Concordia University
Sam Boskey, Former Opposition Leader, Montreal City Council
Marie Boti, filmmaker
Dr. Rosalind Boyd, independent scholar, retired Professor, McGill University
Dionne Bunsha, Climate and Conservation Engagement Coordinator, University of British Columbia Botanical Gardens; former journalist Frontline, India.
Raj Chouhan
Farzana Doctor, writer
Martin Duckworth, retired documentary filmmaker, Alfred-Tessier Prix du Québec 2015 “pour son oeuvre remarquable”
Carolyn Egan, President, Steelworkers Toronto Area Council
Mélanie Ederer, President, Fédération des femmes du Québec (Québec Women’s Federation)
Pearl Eliadis, (BSc, BCL, LLB, BCL. Oxon.), human rights lawyer; Associate Professor (Professional) of Public Policy, Max Bell School of Public Policy; Lecturer, Faculty of Law, McGill University.
Yves Engler, writer and activist
Taha Ghayyur, Executive Director, Justice for All Canada
Dipti Gupta, professor and filmmaker
Freda Guttman, artist
Rawi Hage, writer
Yavar Hameed, Human Rights Lawyer, Ottawa
Dr. Rosalind Hampton, Assistant Professor of Black Studies, University of Toronto
Dr. Michelle Hartman, Professor, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University
Dr. Homa Hoodfar, Board of Directors, Women Living Under Muslim Laws; Professor of Anthropology, Emerita, Dept of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, Montreal
Tara Kainer, community activist, Kingston
Jooneed Khan, journalist
Dr. Pasha M. Khan, Associate Professor, McGill University
Naomi Klein, author, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
Albert Lalonde, climate justice advocate and organizer, law scholar
Dimitri Lascaris, lawyer, journalist and activist
Peter Leuprecht, former Director of Human Rights and Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe; former Dean of Law, McGill University; former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for human rights in Cambodia
Avi Lewis, filmmaker, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
Rohinton Mistry, writer
Elise Moser, writer and editor
Bianca Mugyenyi, Director, Canadian Foreign Policy Institute
Dr. Shree Mulay, Professor, Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Vrinda Narain, Associate Professor, Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, Faculty of Law, McGill University
Dr. Winnie Ng, former Unifor National Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, Toronto Metropolitan University
Alex Neve, Senior Fellow, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa
Dr. Elaine Power, Professor, Queen’s University
Judy Rebick, writer and activist, founder rabble.ca
Naila Saeed, Vice President, Canadian Council of Indian Muslims
Sid Shniad, founding member, Independent Jewish Voices Canada
Jean Swanson, Vancouver City Councillor
Jamie Swift, author, Adjunct Professor, Smith School of Business, Queen’s University (ret)
Richard Swift, political journalist and former editor, New Internationalist
Nigel Thomas, writer, winner 2022 Canada Council for the Arts John Molson Prize
Dr. Reeta C. Tremblay, Professor Emerita, Dept. of Political Science, University of Victoria
Daniel Tucker-Simmons, Barrister and Solicitor, Avant Law Professional Corporation
Stephen von Sychowski, President, Vancouver & District Labour Council
Rahul Varma, Playwright and Artistic Director, Teesri Duniya Theatre
M.G. Vassanji, writer
Dr. Vasanthi Venkatesh, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Merrily Weissbord, writer, editor, award winning screenplay writer
Paul Wilkinson, (Ph.D. CANTAB) Applied Anthropologist, Retired, former Senior Vice-President Environmental and Social Affairs, New Millennium Iron Corp.
Peter White, curator
Ellen Gabriel, Indigenous Human Rights advocate.

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