On the second anniversary of the religious riots in Delhi, rights groups, including the World Organization against Torture, Frontline Defenders and Human Rights Watch, have criticized the right-wing Indian government led by prime minister Narendra Modi for wrongfully prosecuting activists under draconian anti-terror laws.
At least 18 activists were detained on politically motivated charges, as per the rights groups. 13 of those arrested under various provisions, including the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), are currently languishing in various jails in New Delhi. “Police investigations into the riots have been marked by bias, delays, inaccuracy, lack of proper evidence, and failure to follow proper procedures,” Human Rights Watch said.
UN human rights experts have also called for the immediate release of activists arrested for protesting the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Police estimates that nearly 2,456 people have been arrested and chargesheets have been lodged in at least 52% of the cases. Many questions have been raised about the inadequacies in the investigation as well. Incidentally, a Delhi High Court judge, Vinod Yadav, who criticized the police on this count was transferred recently.
Some of the accused who were stated to be involved in communal clashes, such as Uttam Tyagi, Ashish Poonia and Suresh Pandit, are hoping to contest elections this April to become civic leaders. The announcement of their candidature has caused fear and anxiety in the minority Muslim community.
On February 23, 2020, local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra reportedly called for forcibly dispersing protesters demonstrating against the CAA and other issues. Following his open advocacy for the use of violence against the protesters, his supporters gathered in large numbers, subsequently triggering violent clashes. Hindu mobs, armed with swords, sticks, and bottles filled with gasoline, targeted Muslims in several neighborhoods in northeast Delhi. Several establishment owned by Muslims and mosques were also targeted. As many as 53 people died in the violence, a majority of them Muslims.
The Delhi Minorities Commission’s investigation found that the violence was “planned and targeted” and that the police were complicit in and even abetted the violence.
A video showing the police’s anti-Muslim bias during the riots also gained media attention. In that video, several policemen could be seen forcing five grievously injured Muslim men lying on the street to sing the Indian national anthem to “prove their patriotism.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has raised concerns over the Indian government’s use of the UAPA against human rights activists.