Meeran Haider, Shifa-Ur-Rehman and Safoora Zargar (who is three months pregnant) have been arrested for peacefully protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law that legitimizes discrimination on the basis of religion and stands in clear violation of the Constitution of India and international human rights law. Detained under the repressive Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the three can be held without charge for up to 180 days – or even longer – a duration far exceeding international standards. With no provisions for adequate pre-trial safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment contained in the UAPA, as well as the imminent threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in the prison, there are grave concerns for the wellbeing of the three activists.
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Mr Amit Shah
Union Home Minister of India
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Dear Union Home Minister,
I write to express my deep concern about the arrest of peaceful protestors Safoora Zargar (who is three months pregnant), Meeran Haider and Shifa-Ur-Rehman. Currently detained in Tihar Jail, one of the most overcrowded prisons in India, the three are accused of violating the repressive Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for the peaceful expression of their right to freedom of expression.
I find it distressing to learn that the Indian Government has routinely used repressive laws, such as the UAPA, to undermine human rights and stifle dissent. These laws are tools of harassment that authorities use to intimidate and imprison those who are critical of the government.
Safoora, Meeran and Shifa-Ur-Rahman were involved in protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in February 2020, a law that legitimizes discrimination on the basis of religion and stands in clear violation of the Constitution of India and international human rights law. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Parliament, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and various US senators have raised concerns about the CAA. Despite prison inmates testing positive for COVID-19 at a central prison in Indore and a district prison in Karnataka, the government continues to use repressive laws to detain peaceful activists and further puts their lives at grave risk.
I urge you to review the cases of pre-trial detention and immediately release Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider and Shifa-Ur-Rehman who have been arrested under a repressive law for exercising their right to freedom of expression; and repeal or amend all laws which criminalize or impose arbitrary or sweeping restrictions on the human right to freedom of expression, and bring Indian legislation in line with international human rights law and standards.