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Gujarat police case against Teesta Setelvad is an effort to "discredit" human rights defenders: PUCL

By Our Representative
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has said that the case filed by Gujarat police against human rights activist Teesta Setelvad and her colleagues of the Citizens for Peace and Justice (CPJ) is nothing but an effort to “discredit human rights defenders in the public eye thereby making their task as human rights defenders more onerous and difficult to discharge.” In fact, it is an effort to “undermine” the UN Declaration of protecting human rights defenders adopted by UN general assembly in 2013, which acknowledges “legitimate role of human rights defenders and the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”
Releasing full text of the complaint lodged before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seeking justice to Setalvad, the PUCL -- which is one of India's topmost human rights bodies -- said, it is saying this because it is “concerned” about the prosecution and persecution of Setalvad and others of the CPJ, “who had taken up the issues of the victims of Gujarat riots which took place in the year 2002.” It added, “It was their intervention before the Supreme Court and other courts which ultimately led to over 110 convictions so far with other trials nearing completion.”
The PUCL insisted, “The efforts made by (Setelvad and others) are required to be appreciated as they acted for defending and protecting the gross human rights violations of the victims of 2002 riots. It is the duty of the State of Gujarat and all its administrative organs to protect Setalvad and others of CJP in defending the legal constitutional and human rights of the victims of Gujarat riots and to provide them protection, as envisaged in the UN human rights documents, which is also endorsed by the NHRC.”
Referring to the misappropriation case filed against Setalvad and others by the Gujarat police with the active supporter of one of the former employees of the CJP, in which she had “misused” NGO funds for personal gains, the PUCL statement – signed by Dr V Suresh, national general secretary, recalled there have been constant efforts to defame her and her colleagues in the past, too.
In 2004 Zahira Sheikh -- eye witness in the Best Bakery case in which 14 persons were charred to death in 2002 riots -- alleged that she had been “kidnapped” by Setalvad and forced to testify in court against the accused. “The Registrar-General of the Supreme Court after an elaborate enquiry found the allegations against Setalvad by Sheikh to be baseless. While the exoneration helped the CJP to concentrate on its human rights work, valuable time, resources and energy were wasted in the effort”, the PUCL recalled.
“Another example of the misuse of the investigative powers of the Gujarat Police can be found in the private complaint case filed by one Raees Khan. This simple defamation case was used to conduct a roving inquiry by the DCB Crime Branch, Ahmedabad. This roving Inquiry has been challenged in a petition before the High Court of Gujarat”, the PUCL said, adding, “It was in the context of convictions of people owing allegiance to the ruling dispensation, including conviction of policemen and politicians that allegations and complaints against CJP and Setalvad were vigorously pursued by Gujarat Police.”
The PUCL underlined, “Without going into the merits of the complaints we would like to point out that the complaints against CJP and Setalvad have to be examined closely and cautiously in the light of the more than decade long struggle that she and her organisation had waged against the Gujarat State agencies, especially the police and law enforcement agencies.”
The PUCL pointed out, “The CJP and its office bearers Setalvad, Javed Anand and their team of human rights defenders have under 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.”
It added, “Even as they strived to establish the rule of law and ensured that perpetrators were punished, a slew of complaints and FIRs were foisted against them. Many complaints were later found to be unfounded. While we do not want to comment on the specifics of any of the pending complaints we are of the firm belief that the complaints against CJP, Teesta and Javed Anand have to be appreciated in the larger continuum of facts and events.”

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