Over 100 academics, activists, and writers issued a public statement on Tuesday demanding immediate and unconditional release of all those arrested under draconian UAPA in the Bhima Koregaon case. The signatories condemned the continued incarceration of the country’s prominent human rights defenders.
Read the full statement:
We, the undersigned, condemn the continued incarceration of the academics, cultural activists, human rights activists, lawyers, poets, and trade unionists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case and unitedly demand their immediate release.
After three years of media trial, harassment, raids, and arrests of 16 persons, one of the arrested, Father Stan Swamy died on July 5th following wanton medical neglect in custody amounting to institutional murder. Those who remain in custody include professors Anand Teltumbde, Hany Babu, and Shoma Sen, cultural activists Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaichor and Sagar Gorkhe, writer and anti-caste activist Sudhir Dhawale, anti-displacement activist Mahesh Raut, lawyers Arun Ferreira, Surendra Gadling and Sudha Bharadwaj, human rights activists Gautam Navlakha, Rona Wilson and Vernon Gonsalves and poet Varavara Rao.
Now, with the revelations in the Pegasus Project, it is clear that 8 of the 16 were under surveillance for several years before their arrest. Moreover, the Arsenal Consulting reports show how evidence was planted in the devices of at least two of the arrested. The revelations have unambiguously exposed the extent of illegal military-grade surveillance on the arrested, their families, colleagues, and friends. Besides violating their privacy, the extraordinary measures taken to silence voices of dissent in the name of national security stands exposed.
The utilisation of cyber weapons to target, implicate, and then incarcerate dissenting voices has expanded immeasurably, more so when these are done without oversight or accountability. With surreptitious planting of incriminating digital documents, reliance on such ‘evidence’ to establish prima facie case in courts, widespread arrests alongside a vicious media trial, and, finally, prolonged incarceration without trial, the erosion of the fabric of democracy is complete. The use of highly advanced and tailored digital attacks on human rights activists, journalists, judges, lawyers, politicians, and a broad range of citizens of this country shows the desperation of a government teetering on the edges of the law and the manipulation of the state machinery to serve its ends. Accompanied by legal over-reach through the invocation of colonial laws like sedition and the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the actions of the current regime shows that the incarcerated remain in the custody of unabashed impunity.
This impunity is egregious when contrasted with those upholding the principles of democracy. All the arrested have worked for the assertion of the most oppressed and marginalised in society and spoken out against majoritarian Brahmanical Hindutva forces, Brahmanical patriarchy, and upheld the right to life, land, livelihood, and dignity. They have steadfastly campaigned for the rights of political prisoners before becoming political prisoners themselves. While the perpetrators of violence against Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, women, workers, peasants, marginalised sexualities and oppressed communities enjoy the protection of the state, those incarcerated in the case are publicly maligned, implausible plots and political intrigue are ascribed to them and then the draconian UAPA is invoked to deny them bail. They are further dehumanised in prison, deprived of regular access to legal counsel and communication with family members, denied adequate medical care, and detained indefinitely. These are the actions of a retributive regime, a regime that upholds Brahmanical Hindutva fascism beneath the veneer of a constitutional democracy.
Democracy upholds the fundamental right to life and liberty alongside the right to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, association, and movement in our country. The Supreme Court of India deemed the right to privacy as integral to the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed in Article 21 (K.S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India 2017). The use of digital surveillance as a weapon by the government against the people of the country is a violation of this fundamental right. It makes a mockery of the principles of democracy and exposes the vacuity of the claims of national security.
The Supreme Court has time and again reiterated the need to uphold the principles of democracy, demanded a review of colonial laws, and upheld dissent as a safety valve of democracy. Father Stan Swamy died as an undertrial due to apathy and sheer criminal neglect. Along with timely justice, it is imperative that his co-accused are guaranteed the fundamental right to a life with dignity. Upholding the rule of law and the principles of justice, we demand the immediate and unconditional release of all the arrested in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case.
We unequivocally demand the release of all political prisoners.