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[Joint Statement] India: Condemn arrest and judicial harassment of human rights defender Teesta Setalvad

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(Bangkok/Kathmandu, 15 July 2022) – ‘The arrest and judicial harassment of human rights defender Teesta Setalvad is a clear reprisal for seeking justice and accountability for 2002 Gujarat riots,’ said the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and 5 of its member organisations in India.

Teesta Setalvad is an outspoken journalist and the Secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), an organisation advocating for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots where at least hundreds Muslim minority were killed and injured in the riots.

Since 2014 as the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, the authorities have imposed travel bans on Setalvad, repeatedly raided her home and offices, frozen her bank accounts, and judicially harassed her under the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act[1].

The latest harassment took place on 25 June 2022, when the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) filed a case against Setalvad under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code including forgery, fabricating false evidence, instituting criminal proceedings to cause injury and criminal conspiracy. The police allege that Setalvad’s providing legal assistance to the riots victims and attempt to hold perpetrators accountable is a conspiracy to falsely persecute Gujarat government officials including the then Chief Minister.

On the same day, the ATS personnel forcibly entered Setalvad’s house in Mumbai, arbitrarily detained and arrested her, just hours after India’s Home Minister Amit Shah publicly accused her of giving baseless information to the court about the 2002 riots.[2] Former police officer turned whistle-blower RB Sreekumar, who deposed about role of Gujarat government officials was also arrested along with Setalvad on 25 June.

‘The Indian authorities must cease harassing, criminalising and punishing human rights defenders who seek justice for victims of grave human rights violations,’ said the rights groups.

‘We call for Setalvad’s immediate release and drop of all charges against her, and whistle-blowers Sreekumar and Bhatt. We further call upon the authorities in India to create a conducive environment for civil society to operate without fear of reprisals,’ said the groups.

Background about Gujarat riots:

In February 2002, violent mobs led by Hindu right-wing groups targeted Muslims and called for revenge for the death of 60 Hindu pilgrims in the state of Gujarat. Hundreds of Muslims were killed, and their houses and properties were attacked and damaged. Civil society reports[3] indicated the complicity of government officials including the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, in the riots targeting Muslims.

Setalvad initiated the ‘Concerned Citizens Tribunal’[4] led by former judges of Supreme Court and High Court to investigate the riots, and their findings highlighted the government’s complicity in the inter-communal violence.[5]

The Supreme Court judgment of 24 June 2022 is regarding the death of 69 persons[6] in Gulberg Society, Ahmedabad where former parliamentarian Ehsan Jafri and 68 others were killed by violent Hindu mobs.

The joint statement is endorsed by:

  1. The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  2. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
  3. Centre for the Sustainable Use of Natural and Social Resources (CSNR)
  4. Human Rights Alert (HRA)
  5. People’s Watch
  6. Quill Foundation

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The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 85 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. It has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. The FORUM-ASIA Secretariat is based in Bangkok, with offices in Jakarta, Geneva and Kathmandu.

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