The comments by the United Nations Human Rights Office about the arrests of activist Teesta Setalvad and ex-Indian Police Service officers RB Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt are completely unwarranted, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Wednesday.
In a statement, the foreign ministry’s official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that the remarks “constitute an interference in India’s independent judicial system”.
The Human Rights Office had said on Tuesday that the three persons “must not be persecuted for their activism and solidarity with the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots”.
Bagchi, in his response, said that Indian authorities act against violations of law in accordance with established judicial processes.
“Labelling such legal actions as persecution for activism is misleading and unacceptable,” he added.
On Sunday, the Gujarat Police arrested Setalvad and Sreekumar after a first information report was filed against them based on a complaint filed in Ahmedabad by Police Inspector Darshansinh B Barad. While the complaint also named Bhatt, the former IPS officer is serving life imprisonment in a 1990 custodial death case.
The police have accused them of fabricating evidence in a case related to the 2002 Gujarat riots, and have formed a Special Investigation Team to investigate the allegations.
Several international organisations have criticised the police action against the three persons.
On June 27, the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the United Nations, a collective of human rights organisations, had called for the immediate release of Setalvad. The Mumbai-based activist is a member of the group.
“[The working group] is of the firm belief that Teesta’s arrest amounts to retaliation and reprisals for seeking accountability from all, including those in positions of power, and for standing with the victims of the attack, including Ehsan Jafri’s wife, [Zakia] Jafri,” it said.
Ehsan Jafri was among the 69 people who were killed when a mob went on a rampage in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Society on February 28, 2002, setting fire to homes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat when the riots took place.
The working group added that Setalvad’s arrest reflected “an aggressive abuse of power and law by the State machinery, in grave breach of the rights and freedoms guaranteed to citizens under the Indian Constitution”.
On June 26, Mary Lawlor, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, had also called for Setalvad’s release. “Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination,” she had said. “Defending human rights is not a crime.”
Zakia Jafri case
The Gujarat Police’s action against Setalvad and Sreekumar came hours after Union Home Minister Amit Shah in an interview with ANI had accused the activist of giving baseless information to the police about the 2002 Gujarat riots.
On June 24, the Supreme Court had dismissed a plea filed by Zakia Jafri and Setalvad, challenging the report of a Special Investigation Team that had cleared Modi.
The court had said that the petition was filed “to keep the pot boiling for ulterior design”.