NEW DELHI: Indian authorities should stop arresting Dalit rights activists, Amnesty International India and Human Rights Watch said today, referring to the fear among people following arrests in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence earlier this year.
On June 6, Pune Police arrested five people, including prominent Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale, from Mumbai, Nagpur and Delhi for allegedly having Maoist links during its investigation into the Bhima Koregaon violence on January 1.
They were charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and sections of the Indian Penal Code.
The arrested person included Rona Wilson, who was associated with Committee for Release of Political Prisoners.
"This is not the first time that activists working on Dalit and Adivasi rights have been arrested with little evidence. The government should protect people's rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear," said Aakar Patel, executive director of Amnesty International India.
The police had claimed that a letter was found in the residence of Wilson, that talked about Maoists mulling a "Rajiv Gandhi-type incident" and suggesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be targeted during his "road shows".
"The police in India have frequently used counter-terrorism laws to target critics of the government and social activists, particularly those acting on behalf of marginalised communities. The authorities should follow Supreme Court directives not to punish ideological support for a movement and to protect freedom of expression," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Amnesty International India and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly urged the government to ensure that restrictions on organisations do not violate the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly under the international human rights law.
They have also urged the repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, whose provisions use "vague and overbroad definitions" of terrorism, authorise pre-charge detention for up to 180 days including 30 days in police custody, place limitations on bail, and presume guilt in certain circumstances, the two rights bodies said in a statement.
"Instead of targeting those who speak out for the rights of the marginalised and against state abuses, the government should address the grievances of the affected communities," Ganguly said.
On December 31, an event - Elgar Parishad was organised at Shaniwarwada by Kabir Kala Manch to commemorate 200 years of the Koregaon Bhima battle.
It was attended by Gujarat MLA and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, JNU student leader Umar Khalid, Rohit Vemula's mother Radhika Vemula and Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh president Prakash Ambedkar.
Shaniwarwada, a historical fortification in the city, had remained the seat of the Peshwas of the Maratha empire until 1818.
The complaint against Manch members alleged that "provocative" speeches and presentations made during the event "promoted" enmity between two groups.
The complaint also stated that "inciting speeches and presentations" led to the caste violence.
One person was killed in a clash between two groups near Sanaswadi, adjacent to Koregaon Bhima.
The violence led to statewide Dalit agitation.
Vehicles and shops were damaged and torched on the New Year's Day, and houses were ransacked.
Pune Police registered a case against Hindutwa leader Milind Ekbote and another right-wing leader Sambhaji Bhide.
Ekbote has been arrested in the case.
Bhide and Ekbote are accused of orchestrating the violence.
A case against Kabir Kala Manch members was also registered.