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National Human Rights Commission urged to intervene in Gujarat govt's "false" cases against Setalvad

Teesta Setalvad
By Our Representative
In an important move, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), India’s top rights body, has sought “independent review and intervention” by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) “to stop the continuing persecution and prosecution of human rights defenders, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand of the Citizens for Peace and Justice (CPJ), as also others. In a petition filed with the NHRC, the PUCL said, the intervention was needed as the Gujarat government was seeking institute “false” misappropriation cases. The cases were in retaliation of the fight they had put up for victims of communal riots in Gujarat.
The PUCL said, “It is pertinent to point out that even as CPJ and team strived to establish the rule of law and ensured that perpetrators were punished in several cases of 2002 communal riots, a slew of complaints and FIRs were foisted against them. Many complaints were later found to be unfounded upon inquiry by the Registrar General of the Supreme Court and by the various trial courts. . But more cases are being filed and the CJP and team are being hindered in their human rights work and unnecessarily harassed.”
Prof Prabhakar Sinha, National President, PUCL and Dr V. Suresh, National General Secretary, the PUCL said, “In the light of the background and context in which the cases/ complaints have been filed against the CPJ and its trustees Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand, PUCL has requested the NHRC to conduct an independent inquiry and review all the cases filed.”
The petition urged the NHRC “to recommend to the State of Gujarat that pending such review the Government of Gujarat should refrain from initiating any coercive action such as arrest, freezing of accounts etc. or in any manner hindering the work of these human rights defenders.”
Sinha and Suresh said, “The PUCL requested the NHRC to recommend the initiation of criminal and disciplinary action against all policemen, prosecutors and government officials, and individuals against whom there is prima facie evidence of mala fide actions against human rights defenders like Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand and others and to intervene in the matters/cases referred above, going on against human rights defenders Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand so as to protect their rights as human rights defenders.”
The petition stresses that “CJP and its office bearers Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand and their team are human rights defenders. They have, despite threats of grave risk to their personal safety, ensured that the rule of law prevailed in the state of Gujarat at a time when the entire state machinery was subverted and all public officials either abdicated their constitutional and statutory functions or worse connived / actively participated with the perpetrators of terror and violence.”
The petition says, “PUCL believes that the repeated complaints that are being filed against these human rights defenders are only a consequence of their success in upholding the rule of law in Gujarat and ensuring multiple convictions, including that of minister Maya Kodnani.”
The petition refers to “the consistent efforts of Teesta Setalvad and the CJP team which has secured more than 110 convictions so far with many other trials nearing completion.” Amongst the numerous cases pursued by Teesta Setalvad and the CJP, “one of the most noteworthy cases is the Best Bakery case which initially ended in a total acquittal of all the accused, but got a fresh lease of life when an important eye witness to the incident Zahira Sheikh approached Teesta Setalvad and the CJP saying she had been coerced to resile on her eye witness testimony.”
“It is the intervention of CJP as well as the NHRC which resulted in the supreme court directing a fresh trial. During the retrial the CJP also obtained orders for witness protection and appointment of special public prosecutors and eventually the trial court went on to convict 9 of the accused persons”, the petition says.
The petition points out that “under international human rights principles there is a duty cast upon every State to accord adequate protection to human rights defenders.” Citing the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (March, 1999), the petition reminds NHRC, the UN declaration acknowledges that “human rights defenders play a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights and it is the duty of every state and its administrators to avoid criminalization, stigmatization, impediments, obstructions or restrictions on the work of human rights defenders.”
It also adds, in October 2009 the NHRC, recommended that it is the “obligation of the state to protect human rights of all. Individuals, groups or associations who work for promotion and protection of human rights, commonly referred to as Human Rights Defenders, should also be provided protection by the State against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any arbitrary action as a consequence of their activities for promotion & protection of human rights and fundamental freedom.”

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