The American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights said today that the pre-trial detention of Jamia Millia Islamia student leader Safoora Zargar does not appear to meet the standards of international law, including treaties to which India is a state- party.
In a preliminary report on the detention of Zargar, the American Bar Association noted “Based on a preliminary review of the proceedings to date, the ABA Center for Human Rights has determined that her detention does not appear to meet international human rights standards.”
The American Bar Association was founded in 1878 with the aim of “advancing the rule of law across the United States and beyond by providing practical resources for legal professionals, law school accreditation, model ethics codes and more”.
Last week, a Delhi court had denied bail to the 27-year old Ph.D. student and a pregnant woman Zargar in a case registered under draconian UAPA, linking her to the conspiracy behind the Delhi riots.
The Centre of Human Rights, ABA, noted that Zargar had been in the forefront of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 since December 2019, and was arrested first on April 10 for allegedly blocking a road way as part of protests. Though a Magistrate granted bail her in that case citing ‘her pregnancy, health condition, and the directives issued by the Indian Supreme Court on decongestion of prisons during COVID-19’, she was soon re-arrested in the UAPA case, alleging conspiracy behind Delhi riots.
“Given the lack of evidence in the FIR linking Zargar to acts of violence, it is unclear why alternatives to pre-trial detention were not considered adequate by the court in this case,” the American Bar Association report argued.
“Regardless of whether Zargar’s detention was properly justified under normal circumstances, it is likely unreasonable in light of her pregnancy and the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (also known as the Bangkok Rules) concludes that non-custodial means should be preferred for pregnant women during the pre-trial phase wherever that is possible or appropriate,” the report said.
The organization also expressed concern about overcrowding at Tihar Prison, where Zargar is lodged, and COVID-19 infections there.
“Zargar’s sister has also stated in an interview that Zargar has polycystic ovary syndrome, of which one of the health effects is high blood pressure. High blood pressure patients are one of the populations at greater risk for contracting COVID-19,” the report reads.
“In addition to her legal issues, Zargar has also been the victim of a slanderous online campaign, including falsified and explicit images of her being shared online and through WhatsApp messenger,” The lawyers collective pointed to character assassination of Safoora Zargar on social media by Hindutva fringe group members.
Zargar is among the many students and rights activists who were active in anti-CAA protesters arrested and charge-sheeted while India was in lockdown.
International human rights watchdogs including Amnesty International and civil society groups, teachers associations, student organizations, and filmmakers across India had issued different statements calling for the release of Safoora Zargar and anti-CAA activists who were ‘targetted by Hindu nationalist government for protesting anti-Muslim laws’ and ‘arrested under false accusations by Delhi Police.’