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The United Nations experts on June 26, called on India to immediately release “human rights defenders” who have been arrested for protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

The experts while condemning the arrest have stated “these defenders, many of them students, appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), and their arrest seems clearly designed to send a chilling message to India’s vibrant civil society that criticism of government policies will not be tolerated”.

Referring to one of the cases, the experts pointed out that one of the most alarming cases concerns pregnant Delhi student Safoora Zargar, who was detained for over two months having allegedly been kept in conditions equating to solitary confinement and was finally granted bail on 23 June 2020, in her sixth month of pregnancy, on humanitarian grounds.

The experts have highlighted individual cases of Meeran Haider, Gulfisha Fatima, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Khalid Saifi, Shifa Ur Rehman, Dr. Kafeel Khan, Sharjeel Imam and Akhil Gogoi who have been arrested and detained for protesting against the CAA.

The experts have called upon the authorities to immediately release all activists who are currently being held in pre-trial detention without sufficient evidence.

The experts also highlighted their concern that the authorities’ response to the protests seemed discriminatory. It appears they have not similarly investigated allegations of incitement to hatred and violence made by CAA supporters, some of whom are reported to have chanted “shoot the traitors” at counter-rallies.

The experts have further alleged that that the authorities were invoking counter-terrorism or national security legislation, and using procedural police powers, to deny bail to protesters and issue charges carrying heavy sentences.

Urging the authorities to release the activists the experts have said that “Although demonstrations ended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and India’s Supreme Court issued a recent order to decongest jails because of health concerns related to the pandemic, protest leaders continue to be detained. The reported spread of the virus in Indian prisons makes their immediate release all the more urgent”.

The experts are in contact with the Government on this matter.

-India Legal Bureau

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