Defending the Defenders

The habitual victimization of human rights defenders is not any recent practice. There have always been several threats and associated risks for standing up against injustice and raising voice in search of transparency and accountability of institutions. However, in the past few years, this vicious repression of the free speech and liberty of those speaking up for the marginalised and oppressed has gained renewed vigour and momentum. 
The right to freedom of association, assembly and expression in India is under severe assault on a daily basis. From the modification of the labour codes in favor of capitalists and the State, to the sub standard, unconstitutional Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the strategy is clear. The primary aim is to alienate people from their basic human rights and to then intimidate them from their exercise of freedom of association, assembly and speech in order to crush every edifice of democracy. 
In Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, recently, we witnessed the ruthless witch hunt against innocent students and committed peaceful protesters. The police entered campuses, libraries and study spaces and brutally injured harmless students and then arrested several Muslim students and activists on fake charges. HRLN lawyers spent nights in the police stations to ensure the safety of the defenders and students. We were witness to unimaginable cruelty, communal sentiments against Muslims and intolerance to dissent that were the driving force behind these illegal arrests and inhuman attacks. 
The peaceful protests against the CAA-NPR-NRC in Shaheen Bagh and across India throughout India became a milestone in the history of peaceful movement, feminist assertion and communal harmony in India. However, terror unfolded in parts of Delhi from February 23rd, 2020, when a pogrom unleashed against the Muslim defenders and the community in general. Several were injured and dead in the killings. And once again, innocent Muslim youth and fearless defenders were identified and pick up by the Police. HRLN lawyers too were harassed and assaulted by the Police as mayhem prevailed without any transparency and accountability.
As arrests continue for the Delhi pogrom, one can only observe that human rights defenders, who suffered the most in the violence, are being humiliated and tortured again with arbitrary arrests and fake charges. Activists like Harsh Mander, who are known for their work for people’s rights have been slapped with fake charges of inciting violence. Safoora Zargar, another Muslim student activist from Delhi was arrested under similar circumstances while pregnant. Despite several medical complications, she was denied bail by the Court for two months. She was detained under horrible conditions of solitary confinement, without sufficient medical facilities. Finally in her fifth month of pregnancy, after two months, Safoora was granted bail on humanitarian grounds.
With the changing face of technology, the attack on defenders has also gained a terrific momentum. In an act of complete violation of privacy laws, the mobile phones and other electronic devices of several defenders were recently subjected to unlawful snooping by the State. A member of HRLN, Advocate and Activist Degree Prasad Chouhan was also a victim of similar intrusion and attack. Adv Chouhan is particularly active in the work for the rights of dalits, adivasis and other oppressed classes in Chhattisgarh. 


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