The rights organization called on the Indian government to release activists and others who have been arrested for exercising their right to protest
Article 19 Bangladesh and South Asia, an international human rights organization, expressed deep concern over the arrest of eight journalists who covered the farmer protests in India and violence in Delhi on January 26 2021, especially the arrest of young climate activist Disha Ravi. She was accused of sedition for allegedly editing and distributing an activist "toolkit" in support of the ongoing farmers' protest.
In addition to arrests and charges made against peaceful protestors and activists, the central government shut down mobile internet services at several protest sites bordering Delhi in the name of maintaining public safety.
The Haryana state government also suspended mobile internet services in most of the state until February 1. “This paints a worrying picture for the state of freedom and civic space in India,” the statement said.
In a statement issued to the media on Wednesday, Faruq Faisel, regional director of Article 19 South Asia - a UK based International Human Rights Organization - said: “In response to recent farmers’ protests who are looking to Indian authorities to address their concerns regarding their livelihoods, the government imposes disproportionate and indiscriminate restrictions on the internet and other forms of communications. The authorities have attempted to disgrace the protesters, harass the dissent voices and have prosecuted those reporting on the protests.”
“India’s sedition law has been increasingly used by the recent Indian administration to suppress dissent, along with the criminal defamation law and laws dealing with hate speech. The excessive force used in peaceful protests and communication shutdowns are not aligned with the commitments India made when ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and are a direct violation of basic human rights. The Indian government must ensure that any measures taken are in compliance with international human rights standards”, he added.
The farmers' peaceful protests in India have been going on for months, with last month seeing a rise in escalation as the farmers started blocking roads, highways, and occupying pavements as the government didn’t heed to their demands.
Hundreds of thousands of farmers have been protesting on the outskirts of Delhi since November 2020, demanding that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government withdraw three farm laws passed in September.
The protests were peaceful until January 26, India’s Republic Day, when protesters broke through police barricades to enter Delhi and clashed with the police. As a result, New Delhi has stepped up its security and has put in concrete slabs and barricades with embedded iron nails along the borders of New Delhi to prevent any protestors coming in.
Eight journalists who covered the farmer protests in India and violence in Delhi on January 26 2021 are facing charges, including sedition, promoting communal disharmony, and making statements prejudicial to national integration. Additionally, Ms. Ravi, a 20-year-old climate activist, was arrested under sedition laws as well.
According to the Human Rights Watch, the Delhi police have filed 44 criminal cases and arrested 122 people in relation to the violence. The police have also filed cases of rioting, attempted murder, and criminal conspiracy against at least 37 well-known farmers’ union leaders and activists alleging that they made inflammatory speeches and were involved in the violence.
Most of the farmer representatives named in the criminal cases had been involved in talks with the BJP government on the farm laws over the last several weeks. These farmer unions have dissociated themselves from the violence.
The recent escalations, arbitrary arrests, and silence of dissent are painting a worrying picture of the state of freedom of expression, right to information, and media freedom in India.
Article 19 called on the Indian government to release activists and others who have been arrested for exercising their right to protest and freedom of expression. The authorities should immediately stop harassing, disgracing and arresting peaceful protesters.
The authorities should heed and listen to the farmers and come to a resolution through peaceful means, the organization added.