A United Nations official on Saturday expressed deep concern about the detention of activist Teesta Setalvad by the Gujarat Police.
The Gujarat Police’s Anti-Terror Squad on Saturday took Setalvad into custody in Mumbai and took her to Ahmedabad late at night, ANI reported. The police have filed a first information report against her and former Gujarat Director General of Police RB Sreekumar and suspended Indian Police Service officer Sanjiv Bhatt, for allegedly fabricating evidence in a case related to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
“Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination,” Mary Lawlor, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, said on Twitter. “Defending human rights is not a crime. I call for her release and an end to persecution by Indian state.”
The Indian American Muslim Council also strongly condemned the arrests of Setalvad and Sreekumar, and criticised the Gujarat Police for filing a case against Bhatt. The suspended IPS officer is serving life imprisonment in connection with a 1990 custodial death case.
“In several high-profile cases related to the Gujarat pogrom, the perpetrators have either been acquitted by the infamous and compromised Special Investigations Team or granted bail after being convicted,” the council said. “Meanwhile, activists such as Teesta Setalvad, RB Sreekumar, and Sanjiv Bhatt, who demonstrated exemplary courage in pursuing justice for the victims, are being hounded by the police and subject to harassment by the state under false and fabricated charges.”
Ajit Sahi, the advocacy director of the council, alleged that the Indian judiciary “now mirrors the judiciary of an authoritarian regime” and that all the pillars of democracy have collapsed in the country. The organisation’s executive director Rasheed Ahmed said that action was taken against Setalvad, Sreekumar and Bhatt in retaliation for their activism.
The council alleged that the 2002 Gujarat riots were orchestrated by offshoots of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. “More than 2000 Muslims were burnt and butchered under the watch of the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then the Chief Minister of the state,” it said.
The Gujarat Police reportedly want to question Setalvad in connection with the statements she made about the violence at Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Society in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning in 2002.
A mob went on a rampage in Gulberg Society on February 28, 2002, setting fire to homes. Sixty-nine persons died, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was hacked to death. On the previous day, 59 persons returning from Ayodhya had died when a coach of the Sabarmati Express was burnt in Godhra in Gujarat.
The action against Setalvad came hours after Union Home Minister Amit Shah in an interview with ANI had accused her of giving baseless information to the police about the 2002 Gujarat riots.
On Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed allegations of “larger conspiracy” levelled by Zakia Jafri, the wife of Ehsan Jafri, against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior Gujarat officials. In its judgement, the court read a statement made by the state government that Setalvad, a co-petitioner in the case, exploited the emotions of Zakia Jafri.