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"The arrests are part of a clear design to lock down on democratic dissent, undermine free speech and create a climate of fear," the HRF said.

Crackdown on democratic dissent HRF condemns raids in Hyd arrests of activistsImage: Facebook/Varavara Rao
news Controversy Wednesday, August 29, 2018 - 07:36

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) on Tuesday unequivocally condemned the arrests of activists and leftist intellectuals including Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao and several others by the Pune police after searches were conducted across the country. 

In a statement, HRF said, "The arrests are part of a clear design to lock down on democratic dissent, undermine free speech and create a climate of fear. This is quite alarming. These arrests as well as the raids on the homes of a total of nine persons in Delhi, Ranchi, Bombay and Hyderabad are plainly intended to persecute dissenters and those critiquing rights violations by governments. They are based on utterly vague and numerous flimsy and sweeping accusations.”

"According to information available, the highly undemocratic legislation - the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 is being invoked against those arrested. The UAPA is a draconian statute that is in open contempt of fundamental political freedoms and should not have any place in a civilised society. It affords free rein to the police to target and harass virtually anyone they wish to. It allows presumption of guilt, and alleged ‘intention’ to commit crimes to become the basis of arrests, incarceration, and prolonged denial of bail," the statement added.

Stating that slapping the label of 'Maoist' has become a routine option for the state to crackdown on dissent, the statement also added that, "These raids and arrests are part of a concerted onslaught by the State to clamp down on politics that is inconvenient to the ruling dispensation...The real intent is to criminalise the democratic activity of these activists, harass them and ensure their extended incarceration." 

The statement, signed by S Jeevan Kumar and VS Krishna, both of whom are Coordination Committee members for the HRF (Telangana and Andhra Pradesh), also demand that the charges against the individuals be dropped, adding that they must be released immediately. 

Meanwhile, the CPI-M and a number of civil rights activists on Tuesday expressed shock over raids and arrest of certain intellectuals and activists, and said the government is targeting Dalit rights activists post Bhima Koregaon anti-Dalit violence in an "attempt to strike terror among those fighting for justice for the marginalised".

In a separate statement, rights body People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) said the "systematic and pre-meditated crackdown" on human rights activists is "unprecedented and unheard of in a democracy." 

In Hyderabad, besides Varavara Rao's house, raids were conducted at the residences of his son-in-law, KV Kurmanath, a journalist with The Hindu, and Kranthi Tekula, a journalist with Namaste Telangana. The residence of Professor K Satyanarayana from the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), who is also Rao's son-in-law, was also raided earlier in the day.  

The Maharashtra Police seized some documents from Rao's house, while a laptop, hard disk and other material were seized during searches at his relatives' residences.

Rao's wife Hemalatha told reporters that the police told him that he was being arrested in connection with a case relating to the plot to kill the Prime Minister. 

She said about 20 policemen reached the house early in the morning and began the search without any warrant.

Background

In June, the police in Pune had registered a case after a letter mentioning assassination plot was recovered from one of the five persons arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence.

The letter written by a person identified only as 'R' reportedly mentions a plot to kill Modi on the lines of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

It also referred to requirement of Rs 8 crore to purchase a M-4 rifle and four lakh rounds to execute the plot. The letter reportedly mentions Varavara Rao's name as the one who will arrange the funds.

The letter addressed to a Maoist leader Prakash was recovered from rights activist Rona Jacob Wilson, when he was arrested in Delhi.

Varavara Rao, who heads "Virasam" - an association of revolutionary writers - had strongly denied the allegations. He had termed it as an attempt by the central government to check the falling popularity graph of Narendra Modi.

His wife said he was arrested in 20 to 30 cases since 1974 but was not convicted even in one. She said it was the first time that police entered their house and searched every room.

 

Read: He's almost 80, how will he be in jail?: Varavara Rao's family, activists condemn arrest

 

IANS inputs

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