Safoora Zargar, pregnant and detained for peacefully protesting

*Update: Safoora was granted bail on June 23, 2020 and effectively released on June 24 2020*

On 10 April, a dozen police officers arrested Safoora, a Master’s in sociology research scholar, at her home in New Delhi, for inciting violence during the riots that took place in Delhi in February and alleged involvement in terrorist activities. At the police station, the policemen subjected her to threats, degrading sexist comments and insults to Islam (Safoora is Muslim). She was forced to sign several documents, without being allowed to read them, and interrogated overnight by seven to eight male police officers, despite being 12 weekpregnant at that time.

Three days later, Safoora was granted bail on the grounds of her pregnancy, and also following a High Court decision to decongest prisons amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She was nevertheless promptly rearrested in another case and sent to Tihar jail, one of the most overcrowded in the country, where she was kept in solitary confinement, in the name of quarantine.

Her sister Sameeya describes Safoora as “very gutsy, unapologetically honest and very opinionated”. But right now, the family is worried about her frail state of health, as Safoora could initially neither follow the special diet she needs nor take the drugs that had been prescribed to her, a situation which increases the risk of a miscarriage. She has only been allowed to have five-minute calls with her husband, whom she married 19 months ago, and her lawyer. This is highly worrying in light of the important number of cases of torture and ill-treatment in Indian prisons. To make things worse, a campaign of vilification and threats against her and her family is raging on social media, to the extent that the Delhi Commissioner for Women asked the police to take immediate action against the trolls.

The environment for human rights defenders in India has significantly deteriorated in the past years. They are regularly subjected to attacks, arbitrary detention and judicial harassment, generally in full impunity. Those defending the rights of minorities and marginalised groups such as the Adivasi and the Dalit are particularly targeted. Over the past months, there have been rising concerns over State policies that are widely perceived as anti-Muslim. Safoora Zargar is just one among the Muslim students and activists sent to prison after India was put under lockdown, on 25 March.

[1] The CAA grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who had entered India by December 31, 2014 and if they have lived in India for six years. Not only does it violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guaranteeing the right to equality, but it also contradicts the citizenship cut-off date of March 24, 1971 provided for in the Assam Accord. This also implies that individuals with religious affiliations outside of the six named above, including Muslims and atheists, will not be eligible for a citizenship under the conditions of the CAA.

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