February 17, 2015 Leave a comment
With the election of the new right wing government at the centre, there has been a renewed attack on activists and intellectuals in India. The most recent victim of the government’s persecution has been imminent human rights activist Teesta Setalvad who was a key figure in exposing the crimes of Modi’s Government in Gujarat during the 2002 riots. We republish the statement in solidarity with Teesta Setalvad by the Human Rights Defenders Alert-India.
HRDA-India: Statement in Support of Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand
The Human Rights Defenders Alerts – India [HRDA], is shocked to hear about the denial of anticipatory bail to renowned human rights activists Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand by the Gujarat High Court on February 12, 2015. The Gujarat High Court in this particular case of an allegation of misuse of funds further commented that ‘The facts of this case reflect the sorry state of affairs of the NGOs’. “How can one seek materialistic pleasure and happiness at the expense of the poor and needy persons. How can one even use five paise which is meant for the poor and the needy. The facts of this case reflect the sorry state of affairs of the NGOs…The donations are made with lot of trust and hope that ultimately the money would reach the poor and the needy. However, here is a case where, in the name of the poor, needy and unfortunate riot-affected victims, lakhs of rupees was received and embezzled,” said the court, adding that it was “shocking and disturbing”. The HRDA strongly condemns the comments of the Judge of the Gujarat High Court as they are completely uncalled for, based without any substantive evidence and seriously impinge on the right of all NGOs and civil society groups. These comments are even before the investigation in the FIR is complete totally damaging to a human rights defender of international repute. The Supreme Court of India, stayed the arrest of the activists and agreed to hear the anticipatory bail plea the next day on February 19, 2015. HRDA appreciates this speedy intervention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.
This particular case in question is with regard to a trust that was formed in 2007 to build a memorial for the victims in Gulberg Society during the 2002 Gujarat Riots. The Court has also failed to appreciate that ‘Memoralization’ is a human rights engagement that no one but Teesta and her colleagues had attempted to keep the memory of the Gujarat carnage alive in the minds of our Indian society so that the sanctity of our secular fabric is protected from further such attempts. Due to an increase in the land prices, the trust couldn’t afford the said plan and with the due consent of the grant donors utilized the funds for legal aid for the riot victims and petitions challenging the role of the State. An embezzlement case was filed in January 2014 and the Gujarat High Court was moved for an anticipatory bail. For more than a year, the anticipatory bail matter has been pending in court. It is also important to take note of the fact that the Supreme Court has found itself been repeatedly asked to intervene in cases related to the Gujarat Riots. HRDA is alarmed by the speed in which a petition for anticipatory bail has been handled by the Gujarat High Court – for more than one year!! .
This particular matter however is not directly related to the Gujarat Riots, both Teesta and Javed for now over 11 years have been working for justice for the victims and survivors of Gujarat Riots. Their role has been instrumental in obtaining life sentences for former Gujarat State Minister Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal Leader Babu Bajrangi and more than a hundred others. This particular denial of anticipatory bail also comes in the light of several senior police officers accused in a series of cases relating to Gujarat Riots being granted bail by the courts and reinstated back in senior positions in the state police.
This is not the first time that Human Rights Defenders working for justice and truth with regard to Gujarat Riots have been targeted. Teesta herself has been targeted in several other false criminal cases for which she had to seek anticipatory bail from the Supreme Court. It is clearly a part of repeated attempts to discredit human rights defenders and attacks on them.
HRDA strongly condemns the ongoing attacks on human rights defenders in the state of Gujarat and this particular case of attack on Teesta, her husband Javed and their colleagues by the State. These repeated attempts by the state of Gujarat to push the activists on defensive line have constantly failed over 11 years. The response of the State is in contrary to the assurances of states in the UN Declaration of HRDs and in fact it emphasizes all the work that Teesta, Javed and their colleagues have been carrying on patiently and silently. HRDA also humbly requests the judiciary to be sensitive to the NGOs and civil society groups and refrain from passing generic statements having serious implication for people and their reputations, constantly working for human rights and development.
HRDA demands that the NHRC which is to organize a national workshop for Human Rights Defenders in New Delhi on the 19th February and to which it has also invited Teesta Setalvad to participate, will in effect ensure that it [the NHRC] intervenes before the Supreme Court of India in the anticipatory bail petition under Sec 12(b) of the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993, because this is a matter which impinges on the human rights of human rights defenders. It is at times like this that an institutional protector of HRDs, like the NHRC has to take ‘extra-ordinary’ measures for extra-ordianry human rights defenders like Teesta.
HRDA reminds the higher Courts of this country that HRDs across the globe are now armed with a mandate from the U N Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1998 which mandates them to: individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels. [Art 1]. HRDs also have the right to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. [Art 9[C]. It is this engagement that Teesta and her colleagues have been engaging in Gujarat since 2002.