Arbitrary detention /
May 29, 2020
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your intervention in the following situation in India.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary detention of seven human rights defenders in Delhi in relation to their participation in peaceful protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA).
According to the information received, on May 23, 2020, officers from the North-East Delhi’s Jaffrabad police station arrested at their homes Ms. Devangana Kalita and Ms. Natasha Narwal, two founding members of the women’s student organisation Pinjra Tod. They were arrested in connection with their alleged role in a sit-in protest against the CAA that took place at Jaffrabad metro station in Delhi on February 22-23, 2020. They were arrested under Sections 186, 188, 353, 283, 341, 109, and 147 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), for, among many other charges, “obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions” and “assault or criminal force to deter [a] public servant from discharge of his duty”.
On May 24, both were granted bail by a Delhi court, only to be immediately re-arrested by a Special Investigation Team of the Crime Branch of the police in another First Investigation Report (FIR) No. 50/2020 under Sections 147 (“rioting"), 149 (“unlawful assembly”), 353 (“assault or criminal force to deter [a] public servant from discharge of his duty”), 283, 323, 332, 307 (“attempt to murder”), 302 (“murder”), 427, 120-B (“criminal conspiracy”), and 188 of the IPC along with Sections 3 & 4 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act (PDPP), and Sections 25 & 27 of the Arms Act. The court remanded them in police custody for two days, which was subsequently extended by two more days.
On May 28, 2020, Ms. Devangana Kalita and Ms. Natasha Narwal were remanded in judicial custody until June 11.
The Observatory firmly condemns the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Ms. Devangana Kalita and Ms. Natasha Narwal, as they seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities. Their detention takes place after the arrest of other human rights defenders earlier this year for protesting against the CAA.
· On April 1, 2020, Mr. Meeran Haider, a PhD student of Jamia Milia Islamia University, member of the Jamia Coordination Committee and President of the Delhi Unit of the Chhatra Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), was arrested by the Delhi Police Special Cell after being called in for questioning about the anti-CAA protests that had taken place in Delhi. Mr. Haider was arrested under FIR 59/2020 of the Delhi Police Special Cell, although this FIR, which was registered on March 6, 2020, with ‘secret sources’ as the source of information and a sub-inspector as a complainant, did not name Mr. Haider. At the time of his arrest, this FIR only made reference to charges under Sections 147, 148, and 149 read with 120B of the IPC, which are bailable offences punishable with less than seven years of imprisonment and do not require remand, as per Indian Supreme Court’s guidelines. Yet, on April 2, the Metropolitan Magistrate remanded Mr. Haider in police custody for four days, which was subsequently extended by nine more days. After the completion of almost 14 days of police custody, on April 15, Mr. Haider was transferred to Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where he remains detained.
On April 20, 2020, offences under Sections 124A, 153A, 186, 353, 212, 295, 427, 436, 452, 454 read with Section 34 of the IPC, along with Sections 3 & 4 of the PDPP, Sections 25 & 27 of the Arms Act, and Sections 13, 16, 17, and 18 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967, were also added to FIR No. 59/2020.
· On April 9, 2020, Ms. Gulfisha Fatima, a recently graduated student of the Delhi University who was actively involved in women’s led protest against the CAA in Seelampur, North-East Delhi, was arrested by officers from the Delhi Police Special Cell in Lodhi Colony. She was subsequently taken to the Special Cell Police Station, and later arrested under Jaffrabad police station’s FIR No. 48/2020. On April 10, the Metropolitan Magistrate at the Mandoli Jail Complex remanded Ms. Gulfisha Fatima in police custody for two days. She was not given any legal representation for the remand hearings. By the end of her remand period, on April 12, Ms. Fatima was taken to Mandoli Jail, and arrested under FIR No. 59/2020 of the Special Cell Police Station. She was again remanded in police custody for four more days pursuant to FIR No. 59/2020 by the Metropolitan Magistrate. On April 16, 2020, Ms. Fatima was remanded in judicial custody and has remained detained in Delhi’s Tihar Jail since then.
· On April 10, 2020, Ms. Safoora Zargar, a MPhil Student of Jamia Milia Islamia University and a member of the media wing of the Jamia Coordination Committee, was arrested at her residence by a dozen police officers in relation to the February 22-23, 2020 sit-in protest against the CAA at the Jaffrabad metro station in Delhi and brought to the Special Cell Police Station, where she was subsequently informed that she was arrested under Jaffrabad Police Station FIR 48/2020. She was interrogated overnight by seven-eight male police officers. Ms. Zargar was 14 weeks pregnant at the time of her arrest.
On April 11, Ms. Zargar was remanded in police custody for two days by the Metropolitan Magistrate and, on April 13, was granted bail in FIR No 48/2020. However, she was immediately re-arrested under the Special Cell Police Station FIR No. 59/2020 and placed under another two days of police custody. Like Mr. Haider and Ms. Fatima, Ms. Zargar faces the above-mentioned additional offenses that were added to FIR No. 59/2020 on April 20. On April 15, 2020, she was brought to Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where she was placed in solitary confinement for almost two-weeks, despite her pregnancy.
· On April 26, 2020, Mr. Shifa-ur-Rehman, President of the Alumni Association of Jamia Millia Islamia University (AAJMI) and a member of the Jamia Coordination Committee, was detained in Mawana, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh State, and taken to the Special Cell Police Station in Delhi, where he was denied permission to contact his lawyer and was forced to sign blank papers. His personal belongings, mobile phone, laptop, bank and other documents were seized without following proper procedures. AAJMI’s office was also raided and literature, anti-CAA posters, membership fee receipts, and scholarship programme receipts were seized. On April 27, Mr. Shifa-ur-Rehman was remanded in police custody for ten days by the Metropolitan Magistrate. He was subsequently put under judicial custody at Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where he remains detained.
· On May 16, 2020, Mr. Asif Iqbal, a student at Jamia Millia Islamia University who actively participated in the protests against the CAA at his university, was taken for interrogation by Delhi Police Special Cell. On May 17, he was arrested by the Police Crime Branch, Chanakyapuri, under FIR No. 298/2019 for alleged acts of violence that took place on December 15, 2019, near the university. On the same day, denying the police custody, the Duty Magistrate in Saket Court remanded him in judicial custody for 14 days. On May 19, he was also arrested under FIR No. 59/2020 and on May 20 he was remanded in police custody for seven days at the Police Crime Branch, Vasant Vihar, Delhi. On May 27, he was remanded in judicial custody at Delhi’s Tihar Jail for 30 days. On May 28, Mr. Iqbal was granted bail in connection with FIR No. 298/2019, but remains detained under FIR No. 59/2020.
The Observatory is also concerned that on April 27, 2020, Ms. Kawalpreet Kaur, President of the All India Students Association Delhi Unit, had her phone seized by the Delhi police as part of an investigation under FIR No. 59/2020.
The Observatory condemns the increased repression of human rights defenders in India, in particular in relation to peaceful protests against the CAA, and recalls that human rights defender Mr. Akhil Gogoi has remained arbitrarily detained under the UAPA since December 12, 2019, for delivering a speech during a peaceful protest against the CAA in Jorhat, Assam State.
Similarly, on January 29, 2020, Dr. Khafeel Khan, a medical doctor, was arrested at Mumbai airport by the Special Task Force (STF) of the Uttar Pradesh police and Mumbai police, for a speech critical of the CAA at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Uttar Pradesh State. On February 10, 2020, Dr. Khan was granted bail. However, before being released, on February 14, he was re-arrested under the National Security Act (NSA), which allows the detention of an individual determined by an administrative tribunal for up to 12 months without charges. He since then remains detained in Mathura Jail, Uttar Pradesh State.
On March 23, 2020, Mr. Umar Khalid, a student of Allahabad University who had been very active in the anti-CAA protests in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh State, since December 2019, was arrested by Allahabad police. Mr. Khalid was charged under FIRs No. 61/2020, 57/2020, 58/2020, 59/2020, 60/2020 under Sections 54, 147, 149, 188, 269, 270, 307, 323, 332, 353, 442, 504, and 506 of the IPC, Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, and Section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1932. Mr. Khalid was detained at Central Jail, Naini, Allahabad, until May 27, 2020, when he was released on bail. However, charges against him remain pending.
The Observatory is further concerned about the ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment under the UAPA of several other human rights defenders, including Mr. Sharjeel Imam, Mr. Khalid Saifi and Ms. Ishrat Jehan, which is seemingly in retaliation to their opposition to the CAA. Student activist Mr. Sharjeel Imam was arrested on January 28, 2020, and remains detained at Guwahati Central Jail, Assam State. Mr. Saifi and Ms. Jehan were arrested on February 26, 2020 under FIR No. 44/2020 of Jagatpuri police station in relation to acts of violence that took place at a protest site in Khureji Khas. They were both subjected to torture while in custody at Jagatpuri police station, Delhi. On March 21, Ms. Jehan was granted bail while Mr. Saifi’s request for bail was denied. Yet on the same day they were arrested under FIR 59/2020. They remain detained at Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Ms. Devangana Kalita, Ms. Natasha Narwal, Mr. Meeran Haider, Ms. Gulfisha Fatima, Ms. Safoora Zargar, Mr. Shifa-ur-Rehman, Mr. Asif Iqbal, Mr. Akhil Gogoi, Dr. Khafeel Khan, Mr. Umar Khalid, Mr. Sharjeel Imam, Mr. Khalid Saifi and Ms. Ishrat Jehan, which seem to be only aimed at punishing and intimidating them for their legitimate human rights activities and the exercise of their rights to freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly.
The Observatory urges the authorities of India to release immediately and unconditionally Ms. Devangana Kalita, Ms. Natasha Narwal, Mr. Meeran Haider, Ms. Gulfisha Fatima, Ms. Safoora Zargar, Mr. Shifa-ur-Rehman, Mr. Asif Iqbal, Mr. Akhil Gogoi, Dr. Khafeel Khan, Mr. Sharjeel Imam, Mr. Khalid Saifi and Ms. Ishrat Jehan.
The Observatory further urges the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India, a body mandated to protect human rights, including freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, to consider intervening in the above-mentioned cases through the provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The NHRC should undertake independent trial monitoring of these cases, independently examine compliance with arrest guidelines, and assess the living conditions of the defenders in police and judicial custody.
Please write to the authorities of India to urge them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Ms. Devangana Kalita, Ms. Natasha Narwal, Mr. Meeran Haider, Ms. Gulfisha Fatima, Ms. Safoora Zargar, Mr. Shifa-ur-Rehman, Mr. Asif Iqbal, Mr. Akhil Gogoi, Dr. Khafeel Khan, Ms. Kawalpreet Kaur, Mr. Umar Khalid, Mr. Sharjeel Imam, Mr. Khalid Saifi, and Ms. Ishrat Jehan, as well as all human rights defenders in India;
ii. Release immediately and unconditionally Ms. Devangana Kalita, Ms. Natasha Narwal, Mr. Meeran Haider, Ms. Gulfisha Fatima, Ms. Safoora Zargar, Mr. Shifa-ur-Rehman, Mr. Asif Iqbal, Mr. Akhil Gogoi, Dr. Khafeel Khan, Mr. Sharjeel Imam, Mr. Khalid Saifi, and Ms. Ishrat Jehan, as well as all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country;
iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Ms. Devangana Kalita, Ms. Natasha Narwal, Mr. Meeran Haider, Ms. Gulfisha Fatima, Ms. Safoora Zargar, Mr. Shifa-ur-Rehman, Mr. Asif Iqbal, Mr. Akhil Gogoi, Dr. Khafeel Khan, Ms. Kawalpreet Kaur, Mr. Umar Khalid, Mr. Sharjeel Imam, Mr. Khalid Saifi, and Ms. Ishrat Jehan and all human rights defenders in India, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances;
iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1, 6, 8, 11 and 12.2;
v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by India.
- Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, Fax: + 91 11 2301 6857. E-mail: email@example.com
- Mr. Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Fax: +91 11 2309 2979. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, Email: email@example.com
- Mr. Sharad Arvind Bobde, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court, of India, Fax: +91 11 233 83792, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. H.L. Dattu, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Fax +91 11 2465 1329. Email: email@example.com
- Mr. Debindra Kundra, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- H.E. Mr. Rajiv Kumar Chander, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 906 86 96, Email: email@example.com
- H.E. Ms. Gaitri Issar Kumar, Embassy of India to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 6489638 / +32 2 6451869
Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of India located in your country.
Geneva-Paris, May 29, 2020
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
 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. It violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to equality. This also implies that individuals with religious affiliations outside of the six named above, including Muslims, will not be eligible for a citizenship under the conditions of the CAA.
 The Jamia Co-ordination Committee is a group that was formed in December 2019 and comprises students on the Jamia Millia Islamia University campus and other organisations who are opposed to the CAA.
 See Observatory Urgent Appeal IND 002 / 0320 / OBS 019, published on March 6, 2020.