Rights groups in Punjab demand release of protesters, withdrawal of draconian charges

Six human rights organisations in Punjab including Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project (PDAP), Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), Khalra Mission Organisation, Lawyers For Human Rights International ( LFHRI) and Punjab Human Rights Organization (PHRO) have raised deep concern over the disappearances of hundreds of the agitating farmers in Delhi and said “as many as 200 protesters have been detained, while many have been booked under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Sedition sections in Delhi following the incidents took place at Red Fort on January 26.”

The forcible attempts to remove the protestors, many of whom are venerable and elderly, from the protest sites is illegal, unconstitutional and arbitrary, said the rights activists in a joint press conference in Amritsar on Friday.

According to them, registration of FIRs against the farmer leadership not only complicates a very complex and delicate process in their ongoing dialogue with the government but is also a severe, draconian attack on their fundamental lright to protest and constitutional right to object to these laws.

Khalra Mission Organisation patron Bibi Parmjit Kaur Khalra sought the intervention of Supreme Court into the human rights violations against farmers being done by the security forces.

“We write with collective concern as to farmers protest in Delhi which took place on the 26th of January 202, Republic Day. An estimated 200,000 protestors took part in a largely peaceful tractor rally that led to at least one death and resulted in the detention of 200 protesters, footage posted on social media showing people fleeing from police indiscriminately firing teargas at them and the detention and beating of protestors assembled at the Red Fort. There have been reports of protesters injured by the firing of live rounds. There has been at least one fatality of a farmer Navdeep Singh Hundal, a 26-year-old farmer from Uttarakhand at ITO in Delhi”, they said.

The joint statement further reads: “Despite the Supreme Court of India having directed the Delhi police to decide to allow the protest on the 26th of January, there was an abject failure to properly police this protest which has led to these events, and the use of force was entirely disproportionate. At other protest sites there is footage of officers seen beating protesters with batons and attacking tractors and other protest vehicles with lathis”.

“Despite a sustained attempt to demonise the peaceful protests over months, from certain sections of the Indian media, the farmers have shown maturity, dignity and leadership. As with any large scale protests, there were sporadic incidents of violence, however these did not mar what was otherwise an overwhelmingly peaceful and successful protest. By contrast, there have been no violent incidents on the Singhu, Tikri or Ghazipur borders where the protesting farmers have been camping peacefully against the three new farm bills, for the last three months. The organisers of the protest have been congratulated from all quarters as to the success in which these organised protest of mass rallies have been conducted”, it reads.

“In the 1980’s and 1990’s Punjab and Delhi has witnessed much bloodshed cycles of violence and counter-violence in which genocidal pogroms, enforced disappearances extrajudicial killings took place on a wide scale and have still not been resolved, for which thousands of victims still await justice. This year also marks the 35th anniversary of the notorious Saka Nakodar shooting in which 5 innocent protestors were gunned down in Nakodar, Jalandhar for which their families are still awaiting justice. No right-thinking person would wish to see any escalation of violence, retribution or a return to those dark days”, it reads further.

The human rights activists also went on to say that the Police and State Security Services are now indiscriminately detaining people, slapping charges under UAPA, terrorism, sedition and anti-national conduct on hundreds of people associated with the farmers protest, including the farmer leadership.

The rights groups in Punjab demanded for the release of detained protesters, with reports emerging of their ill-treatment and torture in custody.

“An immediate CBI led investigation to establish the cause of the death and to investigate claims that he was killed as a result of police firing or whether it was accidental as has been claimed by Delhi police. The Supreme Court should preserve all CCTV of Delhi’s CCTV entry points to unearth the truth of how the violence was allow to happen,” they said.