South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, vehemently condemns the arrest of Indian rights activist and Journalist Teesta Setalvad on 25 June 2022.
SAHR perceives the detention of Setalvad as a deliberate move by the government to silence and criminalise those who strive to hold the state accountable for rights violations and stand for the constitutional rights of the people. Setalvad as a strong and brave human rights defender has been steadfast in her campaign to get justice for riot victims of the 2002 Gujarat violence and is a founding trustee and secretary of the NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace (CPJ).
The arrest took place following the Supreme Court judgement in the case of Zakia Jafri v State of Gujarat on 24 June. Along with the human rights activist, former police officers Sanjib Bhatt and R.B. Sreekumar were also detained by the anti-terrorism wing of the Gujarat police for “committing forgery and fabricating evidence about the 2002 Gujrat riots”, among other charges. Setalvad, who was assaulted during the arrest, had mentioned in her written complaint to the Santa Cruze police station that she fears for her life.
The Supreme Court’s rejection of the petition filed by Zakia Jafri, clearly delineates that it dismisses all possibilities of the existence of a large-scale conspiracy to commit criminal atrocities including murder, rape, and destruction of property. Pointedly the judgement has also paved the way to persecute all those who used the due legal process to seek justice for victims from the minority community for 16 years.
The arrest of Setalvad and the use of the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad is the culmination of the continuous harassment that she has been subjected to in her fight for justice. SAHR once again reiterates that HRDs and Journalists cannot be vilified for their work and for exercising freedom of speech. This repressive government action directly aggravates the ongoing crisis regarding shrinking civic space and negatively affects dissent which is a hallmark of a thriving democracy in the country.
SAHR strongly urges the Government of India to release Teesta Setalvad and others from custody, put an end to vindictive action, ensure their personal safety, and guarantee a fair process ensuring her fundamental rights and established principles of justice. It also firmly advocates for the government to protect and promote the constitutional rights and freedoms of the people of India.
On behalf of the South Asians for Human Rights,
Dr. Radhika Coormaraswamy