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Modi's promise on his government's commitment to rule of law "increasingly ringing hollow", says Amnesty

By Our Representative
Amnesty International has come down heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on recent events in Delhi in the wake of arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, saying, “India’s Prime Minister has spoken repeatedly at home and abroad of his government’s commitment to the rule of law. Those promises are increasingly ringing hollow.”
One of the topmost international advocacy groups with network in most parts of the world, Amnesty said the arrest of Kumar and former Delhi University lecturer SAR Geelani later, as also “multiple attacks” on journalists and others at a Delhi court, suggest “casual disregard for constitutionally guaranteed rights.”
Police arrested Kumar on February 12 and for allegedly raising ‘anti-national’ slogans at a peaceful demonstration inside the JNU campus, and Geelani on February 16 for organizing an event in Delhi where ‘anti-India’ slogans were allegedly raised.
Both were arrested under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which makes the offence of sedition punishable with life imprisonment. “By branding people ‘anti-national’ merely for expressing opposing views, the central government and Delhi police are displaying an appalling intolerance for dissent,” Amnesty said.
Recalling that the Delhi Police arrested Kanhaiya and Geelani under the sedition law “enacted during the British era to stifle dissent during India’s independence struggle”, Amnesty said, “Mahatma Gandhi, who was imprisoned under the law, called it ‘the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen’.”
Saying that “successive governments in India have deployed it against journalists, activists and human rights defenders”, Amnesty noted, “In 2015, the law was used to arrest a Dalit folk singer in Tamil Nadu for songs criticizing the state government.”
In yet another example of the misuse of the law, Amnesty said, it was used against Hardik Patel, “a community leader in Gujarat protesting for quotas in education and employment.”
The arrests have been made under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which defines sedition as any act or attempt “to bring into hatred or contempt, or…excite disaffection towards the government”. A bill is pending in the Lok Sabha seeking to amend the sedition law to cover only cases involving direct incitement of violence.
Amnesty said, “Under international human rights law binding on India, states are allowed to impose restrictions on the right to freedom of expression on grounds including ‘public order’. However, any such restriction must be demonstrably necessary and proportionate, and must not jeopardise the right itself.”
Further referring to the events of February 16-17 – assault on Kanhaiya Kumar ahead of a hearing at a Delhi trial court, and beating up of journalists, students and teachers in the court premises – Amnesty noted, “The police failure to protect people from violent attacks inside court premises is mystifying.”
Calling it a “disdain for the right to freedom of expression” as also “both misguided and dangerous”, Amnesty statement acquires significance as it comes ahead of the crucial scheduled Supreme Court hearing of the arrests.

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