South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, unequivocally condemns the recent raids by Pune police in Delhi, Goa, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Ranchi that have lead to the arrests of at least five notable human rights defenders.
On Tuesday, 28 August, Pune Police launched a coordinated nationwide raid on the offices and homes of around 10 activists, arresting five so far. Those arrested include Telugu poet Varavara Rao, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira, journalist Gautam Navlakha, and civil rights lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj.
This unprecedented crackdown signifies a worrying retreat of democracy and freedom of speech in India, and has drawn fierce criticism from a broad coalition of progressives including NGOs, political parties and civil society. The state’s excuse of linking these figures to Maoist rebels is flimsy and aviolation of the fundamental right to freedom of association.
As Indian lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan has said in the Indian Express: “The latest arrests represent a new and extremely dangerous phase in the steady erosion of civil liberties, fundamental rights and indeed democracy in India.”
SAHR urges the BJP-lead government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to immediately cease and desist in its crackdown of human rights defenders. Instead of ruthlessly curbing dissent the government of India must meaningfully address the legitimate concern of human rights defenders who are responding to the state’s development policies that have deepened dispossession, inequality and impoverishment in India.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights: