21 MEPs write to Modi expressing concern over treatment of rights activists

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New Delhi: Twenty-one Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior Indian constitutional authorities expressing concern over the treatment of human rights defenders in India, saying activists have been “imprisoned for their peaceful work, targeted under anti-terrorism laws, labeled as terrorists, and [are] in the face of growing restrictions.

MEPs highlighted three specific cases: the arrest of 16 activists and academics in the Elgar Parishad case, the continued arrest of 13 activists and students in connection with the Citizenship Act (CAA) protests and detention of Kashmiri activist Khurram Parvez.

In the letter, they noted the “systemic use” of the Unlawful Activity Prevention Anti-Terrorism Act (UAPA) “to quash dissent”, which has been widely condemned, including by sitting judges and retirement from the Supreme Court.

MPs expressed concern over the use of ‘illegal spyware and/or the planting of key digital evidence on defendants’ computers’, citing reports of the use of Pegasus and Netwire spyware to target some of the defendants in the Elgar Parishad case.

They demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained without cause in “reprisal for their work in favor of human rights”.

A hybrid flag representing the EU and British flags is seen during a debate on the latest EU summit and Brexit at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, October 22, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Vincent Kessler/ Files

The full letter – and the list of signatories – is reproduced below.

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For:
Prime Minister of India, HE Narendra Modi
Vice President of India and Chairman of Rajya Sabha, HE Venkaiah Naidu
Chief Minister of Maharashtra, HE Uddhav Thackeray
Minister of Home Affairs of India, HE Amit Shah
Chairman of the Lok Sabha, Om Birla
Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana
Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, Dipankar Datta
Chairman, National Human Rights Commission of India, Arun Kumar Mishra

Excellencies,

We, the undersigned Members of the European Parliament, write to you to express our concern about the treatment of human rights defenders (HRDs) in India. We have tracked cases of HRDs imprisoned for their peaceful work, targeted under counter-terrorism laws, labeled as terrorists and facing increasing restrictions on their ability to raise and access funds safely due to restrictive legislation . We are particularly concerned about the safety of defenders unjustly imprisoned, with a focus on 15 human rights defenders accused in the so-called Bhima Koregaon case and 13 defenders currently in prison for their campaign against the citizenship law (CAA).

We have been following – and have written to you several times about – the Bhima Koregaon case since June 2018. The 16 well-known HRDs imprisoned under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) are well-known figures for the human rights of the most marginalized. – especially Dalit and Adivasi. They have been labeled terrorists, subjected to deliberate smear campaigns and have been repeatedly denied bail despite their age and the risks posed by Covid-19.

We are distressed by the death in custody of 84-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, which we believe could have been avoided if the octogenarian, suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease, had had access to medical care. in a timely manner and to appropriate treatment. While we welcome the recent release on bail of Varavara Rao and Sudha Bharadwaj, we remain gravely concerned that the risk to the remaining imprisoned defenders is heightened by their age, underlying health conditions and the pandemic, as well as by the stories that have often been denied to them. phone calls to family and lawyers.

We note that the systemic use of UAPA counterterrorism legislation to quash dissent has been widely condemned, including by serving and retired Supreme Court justices. In particular, we are concerned that the UAPA allows detention without charge for up to 180 days and limits the use of bail. Its use poses even greater risks for people with health problems. We regret that concerns expressed locally and internationally have been ignored and we are shocked that even the death in custody of an ill and elderly HRD and the serious medical problems faced by several others have not brought about change. Using the UAPA against HRDs undermines the original intent of the law and only serves to punish defenders for their work, without the need to try and convict them.

We are particularly concerned about the use of illegal spyware and/or planting of key digital evidence on defendants’ computers, and allegations of digital surveillance of those accused or involved in the defense of the Bhima Koregaon case at using Pegasus spyware. This raises serious concerns about the role of the government and the credibility of the evidence against those imprisoned.

We are also concerned about the misuse of the UAPA to target other HRDs, such as the 18 defenders peacefully protesting against the discriminatory CAA. We are alarmed that 13 of them are still in prison, all from the minority Muslim community. We are particularly shocked by reports that judicial intervention was necessary to prevent the police from releasing documents of the defendant to the media on several occasions and that many complained in court that they had been denied essential in prisons, that Muslim inmates have alleged that they are discriminated against by prison staff, and that they are held in what amounts to solitary confinement.

Finally, we are deeply concerned that prominent HRD Khurram Parvez remains detained under UAPA in one of the most overcrowded and unsanitary prisons in the country for documenting rights abuses in administered Kashmir. Indian. Echoing calls from UN experts, we see his case as emblematic of how the Indian government “continues to use the UAPA as a means of coercion to restrict […] fundamental freedoms of human rights defenders in […] the country.”

We are alarmed by this overly broad use of the UAPA and condemn in the strongest terms the arrest and continued incarceration of human rights defenders as punishment for their human rights work.

We draw your attention to India’s most recent endorsement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in September 2020 and the human rights dialogue between India and the EU and wish to highlight that any deepening of EU-India ties will have to be ratified by the European Parliament. We hope that India will show its ability to be a rights-respecting partner in this endeavor, especially in the fight against terrorism. Progress in releasing the above-mentioned defenders will be essential to confirm that the EU can count on India in this area.

In line with the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, we will follow up with the EU Delegation and Member State Embassies in Delhi, and request a discussion on the issue in the European Parliament.

We, the undersigned, therefore call on all Indian authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all those unfoundedly detained in retaliation for their human rights work, especially those on trial in the Bhima Koregaon case; targeted for their campaign against the CAA, and Khurram Parvez upholding the judicial principle that bail should be the norm and not the exception;

  • Ensure that the treatment of the above-mentioned defenders, while in detention, complies with the conditions set out in the “Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment”, adopted by Resolution 43 /173 of the General Assembly of the United Nations of December 9, 1988;

  • Repeal or amend legislation documented as having been widely misused to silence human rights defenders, such as the UAPA, and immediately stop using such legislation to persecute and imprison human rights defenders and suppress dissent peaceful;

  • Thoroughly investigate the use of malware such as Netwire and Pegasus to monitor human rights defenders and hold those responsible accountable.

in the European Parliament.

Truly,

Members of the European Parliament

1. Alviina Alametsä (Greens/EFA)
2. Maria Arena (S&D)
3. Margrete Auken (Greens/EFA)
4. Manuel Bompard (GUE/NGL)
5. Saskia Bricmont (Greens/EFA)
6. Fabio Castaldo (NI)
7. Jakop Dalunde (Greens/EFA)
8. Ozlem Demirel (GUE/NGL)
9. Eleonora Evi (Greens/EFA)
10. Claude Gruffat (Greens/EFA)
11. Francisco Guerreiro (Greens/EFA)
12. Assita Kanko (ECR)
13. Alice Bah Kuhnke (Greens/EFA)
14. Miapetra Kumpula-Natri (S&D)
15. Pierre Larrouturou (S&D)
16. Sara Matthieu (Greens/EFA)
17. Hannah Neumann (Greens/EFA)
18. Giuliano Pisapia (S&D)
19. Ivan Vilibor Sinčić (NI)
20. Ernest Urtasun (Greens/EFA)
21. Salima Yenbou (Greens/EFA)

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