Revoke draconian laws, release political prisoners: Rights activists

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New Delhi : Claiming that the crackdown on rights activists was a result of the "fascist Modi governments desperation", activists on Wednesday demanded the immediate release of all political prisoners and the repeal of the "draconian" laws like the UAPA and the AFSPA.

Speaking at the "Campaign Against State Repression on Right Activists" event here, they called the Modi government fascist and demanded that 10 activists arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence on January 1 as also wheelchair-bound Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, among others, be released.

Speaking on the occasion, Delhi University Professor S.A.R. Geelani said there was a "pattern" behind the arrests and it was done with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

"There is a pattern to what is happening, it's not haphazard. First, they arrested Saibaba on fake charges, then came the arrests of five activists including lawyer Surendra Gadling and activist Rona Wilson who were endeavouring to get Saibaba released," said Geelani, associated with the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners.

"After the second round of arrests of five activists in June, they have gone for more arrests. Arun Ferreira and Vernon Fernandes and others were ensuring legal help to Gadling and others," he said.

Geelani, convicted in the Parliament attack case by the lower courts but acquitted by the Supreme Court, said the crackdown on rights activists was aimed at polarising society and stifle dissent before the 2019 polls.

Kavita Srivastava of the People's Union for Civil Liberties alleged that an emergency under a fascist regime was in force wherein every dissenting voice is being thrown into jail.

She claimed that the arrests were meant to discredit the growing Dalit uprising in the country as well as divert the country's attention from the failures of the Modi government.

"As much as to put down dissent, this is also being done to cover the Modi government's gross incompetence, its failure to fulfil poll promises and divert public attention from burning issues like economic mismanagement, growing unemployment and increasing agrarian crisis," said Srivastava.

Expressing alarm over the abuse of law to stifle dissent, the activists demanded immediate repealing of what they said were draconian laws.

They also dismissed the "urban naxals" term used for political dissenters, saying that the government was desperately trying to use such labels for those opposed to it.