The Progressive International on Wednesday urged the Narendra Modi government to stop wrongful prosecution of non-violent protestors and expressed concern about the rising arrests of human right activists in India. The international organisation, which aims to unite, organise and mobilise progressive voices, criticised the use of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to stop protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

A statement was signed by pioneering linguist Noam Chomsky, American philosopher Cornel West, Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis, American actor John Cusack, United Kingdom MP John McDonnell, writer Arundhati Roy, economist Jean Drèze, social activist Aruna Roy, among others.

The signatories demanded immediate release of political and social activists, repeat and halt use of anti-terror and national security laws against protestors and called for withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Act.

“The protests against a discriminatory law like the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, are natural reactions in a country like India where discrimination on the basis of religion has never been condoned. The attempt to silence those who seek to object to such discriminatory legislation by using draconian, anti-terror, and national security laws is unacceptable. The constitutionally protected right to protest is fundamental to any legitimate democracy.”

— The statement

The Progressive International alleged that investigation into the North East Delhi violence and the 2018 Bhima-Koregaon case was driven by a “partisan and political agenda”. It also said many activists and political leaders have been incarcerated since Centre decided to scrap Article 370 of the Constitution and abrogate Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, noting the communication blockade in the Union Territory.

“The use of the investigating agencies to target dissenting political ideologies in India has been a disturbing trend. The two separate cases of the Delhi riots 2020 and the Bhima-Koregaon incident 2018, have cast a wide net and included public figures known for their decades of social, political and democratic work being criminalised and accused under anti-terror and national security laws.”  

The statement said a large number of those targeted by the ruling government in India are Muslims. This also includes human right and civil rights activists who have criticised the policies and laws.

The organisation named Member of the Council of Progressive International Harsh Mander, Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, filmmaker Rahul Roy, Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid as examples. It noted that Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury and economist Jayati Ghosh have also been named in the disclosure statements of three women accused of playing a key role in the February violence.

The statement also referred to the arrests made in the Bhima-Koregaon incident, including poet Varvara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, activist Gautam Navlakha and Dalit rights advocate Anand Teltumbde. They are among the many other activists who have been in custody under “false and untenable” charges, it said.

“In the Bhima-Koregaon case, many activists who have dedicated their lives to causes of social justice and were not even remotely involved in any kind of violence, are being unjustly prosecuted, instead of prosecuting the perpetrators of violence.”

The signatories said the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government is causing “irreparable damage to an already crumbling democratic system” with its arbitrary arrests of protestors.

The arrests send a chilling message to citizens that disagreement with, or criticism of government policies will not be tolerated.The conduct of the Indian government is unacceptable in the international framework for the protection of human rights and runs counter to the Indian Constitutional framework.”

In multiple chargesheets connected with the February riots, the Delhi Police have claimed that the violence was part of a well-planned conspiracy to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, and was hatched by those who organised the protests against the amended Citizenship Act. The act, which was passed in December, introduced a religious test for Indian citizenship that critics said was discriminatory towards Muslims. The protests against the CAA started in Delhi in mid-December and quickly spread across the country.

The violence in Delhi left over 50 people dead, hundreds injured and thousands displaced.

On Thursday, over 200 eminent personalities urged the Bharatiya Janata Party to release Umar Khalid and all those falsely implicated for protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The signatories, including gender theorist Judith Butler, scholar Homi K Bhabha, writers Arundhati Roy, Meena Kandasamy, Rajmohan Gandhi, Amitav Ghosh and Salman Rushdie, among others expressed concern at the arrests of democratic voices in India.