India: Activists Seek Arrest of Amnesty International Officials

Akash Vashishtha
2016.08.19
New Delhi
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160819-IN-amnesty-620.jpg An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard in a bunker in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, where 64 civilians and two security personnel have been killed in clashes since a separatist leader was gunned down six weeks ago, Aug. 19, 2016.
AFP

Hundreds of right-wing activists affiliated with India’s ruling party rallied outside Amnesty International’s (AI) office in Bengaluru on Friday, threatening nationwide protests unless organizers of an event that allegedly featured anti-national slogans were arrested soon.

The protesters belonging to Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) also demanded a ban on the human rights advocacy group. AI faces sedition charges for allegedly raising anti-India slogans during an event that took place in Bengaluru on Aug. 13 to discuss alleged atrocities committed by Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The police must investigate the anti-India sloganeering by all fair means. We have submitted all the evidence, including video recordings of the event. It is undisputable evidence,” ABVP’s Prem Bora, who led Friday’s protest, told BenarNews.

The ABVP is the student wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“The police should arrest Amnesty International officials who organized the event. The role of the United Theological College, where the event was held, should also be probed,” Bora said.

“If those responsible for organizing the event are not arrested by tomorrow, we will launch protests across the country,” he added.

‘Had to register the case’: Police

Police said they had registered a case on grounds of sedition against the NGO on the basis of a complaint filed by ABVP activists, but ruled out the possibility of any immediate arrests.

“We had to register the case. If we had not, there would be another ruckus over denial of rights to those wishing to lodge a complaint. We have received the video footage of the event and taken cognizance. But the material submitted as evidence has to be verified first,” N.S. Megharikh, Bengaluru’s commissioner of police, told BenarNews.

“We are still looking for something substantial in the evidence. Amnesty officials have conducted several programs in the past. So fixing the organizers’ responsibility for the sloganeering on the basis of the evidence available to us is not forthcoming,” Megharikh said.

AI said the Aug. 13 event was held to allow discussions with families from Indian-administered Kashmir, where more than 70,000 people have lost their lives since a separatist insurgency erupted in the region in the late 1980s.

In the latest round of violence in the Himalayan region, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, 64 civilians and two security personnel have been killed in continuing clashes between pro-freedom protesters and Indian security forces since a separatist leader was gunned down on July 8.

‘Baseless and without substance’: Amnesty

In an email response to BenarNews, AI India Executive Director Aakar Patel denied charges that the event featured anti-national songs, slogans and speeches.

“These allegations are baseless and without substance, and will be proved so after the ongoing investigation. We take responsibility for providing a platform to families from Jammu and Kashmir to narrate their personal stories of loss and journey for justice. Our campaign was aimed at seeking truth and justice for these families, and for victims and survivors of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir,” Patel said.

“The sedition law was used by the British to curb free expression during India’s independence struggle. Indian courts have ruled that expression can be restricted on grounds of public order only when it involves incitement to imminent violence or disorder. Successive governments in India have deployed it against journalists, activists and human rights defenders,” Patel said.

“We have responded to the baseless allegations made by ABVP.  We have shared all our video footage of the event with the police, and will continue to cooperate with the investigation. This case will not affect our work. We are and will continue to be committed to working on and highlighting human rights abuses in India and around the world,” he added.

Prime Minister Narendra’s Modi’s government has been facing criticism for suppressing civil liberties since it came to power after a landslide victory in May 2014. It has since cancelled the registration of nearly 10,000 NGOs, including environmentalist group Greenpeace India, for failing to declare overseas funds received in donations.

Greenpeace India Executive Director Ravi Chellam, who was at the Aug. 13 event organized by AI, told BenarNews that the “sharp debate only enabled many in the audience get a better sense of the nature of loss and pain of the families who have lost their loved ones, which otherwise is often difficult to imagine.

“It was just a platform for sharing. As Kashmir is an integral part of India, Kashmiris should be welcome to express themselves anywhere in the country.”

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