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Maoist link charges 'baseless': Global NGO seeks urgent release of Sudha Bharadwaj

By Our Representative

Even as August 28 2020 marks two years since the arrest and detention of Indian activist and human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, Civicus, a global civil society organization, has called upon the Government of India to “immediately release Bharadwaj and drop all charges against her”, stating charges against her are “baseless” and there are also “concerns” for her health in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A global alliance of CSOs with 10,000 members worldwide, the Civicus monitor, an online platform that tracks the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression in countries across the world, last year downgraded India from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ owing to its “increased restriction of space for dissent” after Modi’s re-election in May 2019.​ 
Pointing out that Bharadwaj has been in pre-trial detention since August 2018, when she was arrested under the “draconian” Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with Maoist terrorist organizations, the Civicus statement said, there is no truth in the allegation that “she and ten other human rights defenders were conspiring to incite Dalits, a marginalised group, at a public meeting which led to violence in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra in January 2018.”
“Bharadwaj was initially held under house arrest until October 2018, when she was then moved to Byculla Women’s Prison in Mumbai”, the statement said, adding, “There are concerns that the 59 year old, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension, will be susceptible to Covid-19 in the cramped prison, where an inmate has already tested positive for the virus. A July medical report found that she is also now suffering from Ischemic heart disease.”
Civicus regrets, “Despite her underlying health issues, last week Bharadwaj’s plea for bail to the Bombay High Court was opposed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which claimed her condition is not serious”, adding, “The treatment of Bharadwaj highlights the increasingly repressive measures used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to clamp down on dissent and silence human rights defenders.”
Asserting that UN experts have expressed concerns about the terrorism charges laid against her and about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act’s (UAPA’s) “vague definition of ‘unlawful activities’ and ‘membership of terrorist organisations’ being “routinely used to stifle dissent”, Civicus called Bharadwaj a leading human rights defender, who feature in its global campaign #StandAsMyWitness.
“Sudha is a lawyer and activist who has spent her life defending Indigenous people in India and protecting workers’ rights. However, her human rights activities have put her in the firing line of the Modi regime, which is abusing the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and using it to round-up activists and human rights defenders on trumped-up charges,” said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific civic space researcher for Civicus.

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