Condemning the raids and arrests of five human rights activists on Tuesday, 37 organisations and social groups came together on Wednesday to demand the repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and immediate release of the civil rights activists arrested under the Act.
“State and police should immediately desist from using the draconian UAPA law against human rights activists and public intellectuals. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis should distance himself from his ‘mentor’, the prime accused in the Bhima Koregaon violence, Sambhaji Bhide,” the joint statement said.
On Tuesday, Pune police conducted simultaneous raids on the houses of civil rights activists Arun Ferreira (Thane) and Vernon Gonsalves (Mumbai), Anand Teltumbde (Goa), Gautam Navlakha (Delhi), Varavara Rao, K V Kumaranath, Kranthi Tekula and Professor Satyanarayana (Hyderabad), Sudha Bharadwaj (Faridabad), Stan Swamy (Jharkhand). Previously in June, Pune police had arrested activist Dr Sudhir Dhawale, lawyer Surendra Gadling, professor Shoma Sen, activist Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson in the same case.
Taking suo motu cognisance, the National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the Maharashtra DGP, seeking a report on the arrests in four weeks. “The standard operating procedure in connection with these arrests has not been properly followed by the police authorities, which may amount to violation of their human rights,” the commission observed.
“These arrests are a means to divert attention from Sanatan Sanstha. Those arrested have no connection with Elgaar Parishad. The parishad, as indicated by government, has never funded the Naxals,” said retired Justice Kolse Patil, organiser of Elgaar Parishad. He added that the report submitted by Inspector General of Police Vishwas Nangare Patil in the Bhima Koregaon incident blamed Milind Ekbote, president of Samasta Hindu Aghadi, and Sambhaji Bhide, who heads Shiv Pratishtan Hindustan.
Professor Anand Teltumbde, whose house was raided in his absence in Goa, said he was shocked to know the manner in which the raids were carried out in his campus, “It is not a question of a few people being arrested or targeted, it could happen to anyone. It is terrorising that the state is targeting anyone they want. All these laws are being used to incarcerate people.”
The 37 organisations, including People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, listed seven demands, including immediate release of all arrested activists, speedy investigations into the Bhima Koregaon violence, arrest of Ekbote and Bhide, and repeal of UAPA under which all activists have been booked.
“Despite rejection of application by magistrate court, police raided and arrested lawyer Surendra Gadling in June. UAPA has been used to keep all these people behind bars for prolonged periods. People fighting for rights of marginalised people are being arrested for what, we do not know,” said lawyer Mihir Desai, adding that all activists arrested had no connection with Bhima Koregaon.
“In fact Stan Swamy did not even know where Bhima Koregaon is when the police came to raid in Jharkhand.” He alleged that in case of lawyer Gadling, police seized a DVD of several Bollywood movies from his house. In Vernon Gonsalves’ house, books with any reference to Naxals were seized, alleged Gonsalves’s wife lawyer Susan Abraham.
Hasina Khan from Bebaak Collective alleged that the arrests “seem planned ahead of 2019 elections”. “Government does not want dissent to rise. We condemn the fascist and Hindutva ideology of government,” Khan said.
The Justice J N Patel commission appointed by Maharashtra government in June to look into Bhima Koregaon violence is set to conduct its first hearing in September first week.