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India
07.07.22
Urgent Interventions

India: Ongoing arbitrary detention of prominent woman rights defender Teesta Setalvad

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

IND 004 / 0722 / OBS 059
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment /
Reprisals /
Excessive use of force
India
July 7, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the ongoing arbitrary detention, judicial harassment, and reprisals against prominent woman human rights defender Ms. Teesta Setalvad, in retaliation to her legal actions seeking truth, justice, and reparation for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat communal riots, a series of acts of religious violence targeting the Muslim community, which resulted in the killing of at least 2,000 individuals. Ms. Setalvad is the co-founder and Secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP).

On July 2, 2022, a Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat State, remanded Teesta Setalvad to 14 days of judicial custody in Sabarmati Central Jail, where she remained detained at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.

Ms. Setalvad has been arbitrarily detained since June 25, 2022. That day, officers of the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) of the Gujarat police entered her house in Mumbai, Maharashtra State, and arbitrarily detained her without a warrant. She was physically attacked in her house by the ATS officers when she requested to have access to her lawyer and had a large bruise on her left hand as a result. Moreover, she was not shown the First Information Report (FIR) filed against her until her lawyer arrived, one hour later. Police subsequently took her to Santa Cruz police station in Mumbai, where she filed a complaint against her arbitrary detention and the police’s physical assault, and expressing fear for her life while in custody.

The FIR against Ms. Setalvad was filed by the Ahmedabad Crime Branch, and includes charges of “forgery for the purpose of cheating”, “using a forged document or electronic records as genuine”, “criminal conspiracy”, “giving or fabricating false evidence with the intent to procure conviction of capital offence” and “false charge of offence made to injure” (Sections 468, 471, 120(B), 194, and 211 of the Indian Penal Code, respectively). These alleged offences cover a period of over 20 years, from 2002 to 2022.

On the same day of her arrest, at night, ATS of the Gujarat police officers took Teesta Setalvad by car from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, Gujarat State, where the FIR had been registered. After an eight-hour journey, they reached Ahmedabad at 6am on June 26, 2022. She was taken to the Ahmedabad Crime Branch, where she was formally arrested on the above-referenced charges. On the same day, she was produced before the Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Ahmedabad and was remanded for six days of police custody until July 2, 2022. Ms. Setalvad told the court she had been assaulted by ATS Gujarat police. She further stated that her detention had been arbitrary as she was served neither a notice nor a warrant, and she was not initially allowed to communicate with her lawyer.

The Observatory notes that the detention and subsequent arrest of Teesta Setalvad took place one day after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by Ms. Zakia Jafri - the widow of Mr. Ehsan Jafri, a member of the Indian Parliament who was killed during the 2002 Gujarat communal riots. Ms. Setalvad was a co-petitioner in this case. The petition challenged the report of the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), by which the then-Chief Minister of Gujarat State and now the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, and 63 other individuals, were absolved of any responsibility in one of the incidents related to the 2002 Gujarat communal riots. In dismissing Ms. Setalvad’s petition, the Supreme Court’s judgement accused her of “exploiting the emotions and sentiments” of Zakia Jafri, who the court described as “the real victim of the circumstances”. The judgment further stated that the petition was filed “to keep the pot boiling […] for ulterior design”, and said that “all those involved in such abuse of process, need[ed] to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law”.

The day after the Supreme Court’s judgement was made public, in a media interview India’s Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Amit Shah, accused Teesta Setalvad and her organisation of “giving baseless information about the [2002] riots to the police”. He further stated that “Zakia Jafri worked on someone else’s instructions”. A few hours later, Teesta Setalvad was arbitrarily detained.

The Observatory notes that Mr. Sanjiv Bhatt and Mr. R.B. Sreekumar, two former senior Indian Police Service officers from Gujarat State, have been accused under the same FIR along with Teesta Setalvad. Both of them had given testimony and submitted information to the SIT involving Narendra Modi in the 2002 riots.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary arrest and detention of Teesta Setalvad, and of whistle-blowers Sanjiv Bhatt and R.B. Sreekumar, and expresses its utmost concern over the targeting and prosecution of Ms. Setalvad, as it is clearly aimed at punishing her for her work seeking justice for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The Observatory recalls that this is not the first time Teesta Setalvad faces unfounded charges and harassment in retaliation for her human rights work. In 2013, she was accused together with her husband of alleged “embezzlement of funds” intended for the construction of a memorial to the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots. In 2015 their house was raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation, and a travel ban was imposed on her. In 2016, the Ministry of Home Affairs cancelled the license of her NGO, Sabrang Trust.

The Observatory urges the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Teesta Setalvad, as well as Sanjiv Bhatt and R.B. Sreekumar, and to put an end to all acts of reprisals and harassment against them. The Observatory further calls on the authorities to put an immediate end to the reprisals and prosecution against human rights defenders seeking justice for victims of human rights violations.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of India, urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Teesta Setalvad, as well as of Sanjiv Bhatt and R.B. Sreekumar.

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Teesta Setalvad, as well as Sanjiv Bhatt and R.B. Sreekumar, and put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them, as well as all other human rights defenders in India.

iii. Provide Teesta Setalvad, Sanjiv Bhatt and R.B. Sreekumar unhindered access to their lawyers and family, and guarantee their rights to due process and fair trial.

iv. Carry out an immediate, thorough, and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned excessive use of force applied to detain Teesta Setalvad in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, E-mail: pmosb@pmo.nic.in, Twitter: @narendramodi
  • Mr. Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Email: dirfcra-mha@gov.in
  • Mr. Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, Email: hshso@nic.in
  • Mr. N.V. Ramana, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court of India, Email: supremecourt@nic.in
  • Mr. Shri Devendra Kumar Singh, IAS, Secretary General Chief Executive Officer
    of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: sgnhrc@nic.in, Twitter: @India_NHRC
  • Mr. Indrajeet Kumar, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: hrd-nhrc@nic.in
  • H.E. Mr. Indra Mani Pandey, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: india.geneva@mea.gov.in

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of India in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, July 7, 2022

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 FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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