New Delhi: Eleven eminent personalities, including MPs Shashi Tharoor, Supriya Sule and Kanimozhi, held a press conference Wednesday to condemn the “illegal arrests” in connection with the 2018 Bhima-Koregaon violence. They also condemned the “brazen misuse” of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which has been invoked against the accused, and demanded its repeal.
Sixteen people have been arrested in the case so far, including Jharkhand-based activist and priest Stan Swamy, 83, who was apprehended on 8 October. The case is being probed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The others arrested include academics Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Shoma Sen and Hany Babu, and lawyers Sudha Bharadwaj, Surendra Gadling, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira.
The participants of the virtual press conference said the UAPA is being used to silence voices that believe in democracy and secularism, adding that India’s secular fabric is under threat from the BJP-RSS.
The press conference was organised by the human rights body People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Its participants included Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, former CPI(M) MP Sitaram Yechury, former CPI MP D. Raja, economist Jean Dreze, Dr Marianus Kujur, the director of the Ranchi-based Xavier Institute of Social Sciences, activists Dayamani Barla and Rupali Jadhav, and lawyer Mihir Desai, besides Congress leader Tharoor, Sule of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and Kanimozhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
The PUCL said the meeting was organised to condemn the “brazen abuse of criminal laws in the country”.
“For the last six years, we have seen brazen abuse of criminal laws of the country, organs of the state like ED (Enforcement Directorate), CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) being used in a partisan manner,” PUCL general secretary Suresh V said.
United call to ‘repeal UAPA’
The speakers called for united action in demanding the repeal of the UAPA.
“UAPA is being misused to silence voices who believe in democracy and secularism,” said Kanimozhi.
They added that it is necessary to put aside differences to save democracy and the Constitution. “This is not just about a single issue like Bhima-Koregaon or individual laws like sedition, UAPA. This is a larger struggle to safeguard the secular fabric of our country against the BJP-RSS, which wants to establish a theocratic and rabidly intolerant Hindu Rashtra,” said Yechury.
“We fought to repeal POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act). Now, like POTA, UAPA and sedition laws must also go,” he added.
Introduced in light of the 1999 IC-814 hijack, POTA was repealed in 2004 amid complaints of the law being abused.
Asked what concrete actions the opposition is planning to chalk out to build consensus against the UAPA, the leaders said discussions in this regard are still on.
“Discussions are on and the roadmap will soon be made public once the parties reach an agreement on how to proceed practically,” said Yechury. “There’s no dispute on the agenda. But it takes time. It took time with POTA and it will take time with UAPA as well.”
Call for Stan Swamy’s release
Along with the repeal of the UAPA, the 11 personalities demanded the release of Stan Swamy, alleging that his arrest shows that dissenting voices are being crushed. “Today we have a situation where an 83-year-old man has been arrested without any regard for his health. The charges against Swamy are preposterous. Swamy’s work with the adivasis must be encouraged,” said Tharoor.
Soren added that his arrest showed the central government is targeting non-BJP-ruled states. “It is up to the opposition to stop the BJP-led Centre from targeting the opposition-ruled states. Today, it is Stan Swamy, tomorrow it will be you and me,” he said.
“Today, it is my state, tomorrow it will be your state. We have to save the country and stop the attacks on our countrymen and strengthen our voices to save India from this misrule by the BJP,” Soren added.
Sule said the central government is using these arrests to settle political scores with these non-BJP states. “The Maharashtra government and police’s probe in the Bhima-Koregaon case was even praised by the Supreme Court. But the central government snatched away the probe abruptly even though the probe was being conducted in a fair manner,” she added.
Dreze stressed the need to continue the broad political consensus building up against the UAPA. “For the first time, a broad political opposition is building against UAPA. Perhaps because political parties are realising that they themselves can become targets for these laws that have so far been reserved for marginalised groups,” he said.