Call issued by several organizations across the country
Join National Action to Defend Democracy:
Defend Right to Dissent,
Repeal Sedition Law,
UAPA and Repressive State Laws,
Restore Right to Bail
The Institutional murder of the 84-year-old Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy in judicial custody on 5th July 2021 has brought home to all of us the urgency of the need to take up the defence of democracy against repressive laws. Father Stan, who spent a lifetime working with Adivasis in Jharkhand in defence of their rights, was arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case even though he had no connection with it and the police did not require him for any investigation. Father Stan died waiting for a chance to clear his name. In denying Fr Stan bail, the NIA judge, D. E. Kothalikar argued that “the collective interest of the community” outweighed Fr. Stan’s right to personal liberty. His death should shake the conscience of the nation and the judiciary as it “brings to an end a stark tale of injustice – one that has left the highest institutions of India’s justice system diminished.” But even after Father Stan’s death, the same court denied bail to Anand Teltumbde, another member of the BK-16, as the advocates, artists, journalists and intellectuals who have been imprisoned under the Bhima Koregaon case are called.
In the past decade, there has been drastic erosion in the democratic space for protest in the country. A strategy that has been central to this erosion has been the weaponizing of the criminal justice system by the State to harass and punish those who dare to protest against the policies and actions of the Government. In this situation, while we look to the Courts to protect our fundamental rights, the entire judicial system, has failed the citizens. There have been 7050 arrests in 5128 UAPA cases between 2015-2019 but conviction rate was only 2.20% (according to data presented in the Lok Sabha in March 2021).
While this experience has become visible because of a number of cases (e.g. the Bhima Koregaon case, the Delhi riots cases), where intellectuals, students, trade unionists, lawyers and activists have been incarcerated, the axe of state repression is always hanging over the heads of people expressing their point of view or dissenting from the state. The Working People, Dalits and Adivasis who raise their voices know the State only as an entity that punishes for peaceful and democratic attempts to challenge the status quo. However, the Muslims are particularly vulnerable and have been targeted to create a false narrative of internal terrorism and threat to the nation. The disheartening situation is that of the courts who have mostly acted in a conservative manner and have been reluctant to speak truth to power and restore justice. Earlier the mainstream media allowed for expression of protest and raised issues of such injustice, today it has become the voice of the state and an important medium to popularise the narrative of the State. .
The large numbers of human rights activists, friends and supporters of all the people in jail under these laws, have consistently and persistently built up a campaign for their release and against the use of draconian laws. Scores of people have been detained under various other repressive state laws. This includes journalists, human rights activists, trade union activists and workers, cultural activists, comedians, environmentalists, youth, students, farmers, electricity and industrial workers, and large numbers of minorities, to create a false narrative of internal terrorism and threat to the nation.
Recently, there have been small rays of hope. A series of judgements and court orders have begun to question the issues of the sedition law, UAPA and the right to bail. The most recent orders from the NIA court in Guwahati and the Delhi High Court (in the cases of Akhil Gogoi; Asif Tanha, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal) has offered a devastating critique of the UAPA and is seen as a turning point in judicial circles. Even the mainstream press has taken note of this turn, breaking with the narrative of the BJP government on these issues. This judgement has vindicated the democratic opposition which has continued on the ground and defended the right to dissent and opposition to government. It has been categorically established that the right to dissent is a fundamental aspect of democracy.
The current moment presents a unique opportunity for all those who are concerned with the worsening situation of the right to protest and shrinking space for democracy. We, the undersigned organisations, call upon groups across the country to organize – to free our wrongly jailed prisoners, to repeal these repressive laws, and restore democracy.
23 July 2021, Day of Public Action – Justice for Father Stan Swamy
Fr Stan was repeatedly denied medical bail by the NIA special court, despite suffering from Parkinsons and heart disease. He died waiting for a chance to clear his name.
We call upon groups across the country to organize public protests on 23rd July 2021 calling on the Judiciary to restore dignity to Father Stan and give him justice, at least in death.
We are further calling for all of us to unite around 6 demands:
1. Repeal of the sedition law
2. Repeal of UAPA (and all other draconian laws, including state laws that allow preventive detention)
3. Restore Right to Bail
4. Release all Political Prisoners
5. Accountability for filing false cases and Compensation to victims
6. Stop illegal detentions and weaponizing the criminal justice system
We propose that all concerned citizens and groups come together for common days of protest:
15 Days of Action – 15-28 August 2021
• 15th August as a day of pledge to defend democracy and the Indian Constitution. A countrywide reading of the Preamble of the Constitution can be organized.
• Between 15th and 27th August, any one or two days of a countrywide mass hunger strike; along with any other political actions and cultural events that individual organizations may want to organize during this these days.
• 28th August, as a day of countrywide protest, as it is the day when 5 people in the Bhima Koregaon case were arrested 3 years ago. This event can begin in the evening and end with a candlelight vigil for all jailed comrades.
• Several groups have also proposed protest on the 9th of August the International day of indigenous peoples and the day the Quit India movement was launched by Mahatma Gandhi
We call on all organizations to participate with their banners, slogans, and placards. Furthermore if organisations want, they can add in their local programmes, additional demands related to state repression. Organizations can also include these demands in actions organized on any other commemorative dates of people’s struggles (such as 9th August, 23rd September and so on) as part of this campaign.
Please circulate this appeal widely.