Activists and Human Rights Groups Cannot Help Prisoners of Conscience, says Rutgers University Professor - IAMC

Activists and Human Rights Groups Cannot Help Prisoners of Conscience, says Rutgers University Professor


Washington, DC (October 03, 2022) – “The Citizenship Amendment Act is one piece of this far larger project, but it’s a particularly important piece, which is why we saw such brutal crackdowns on protesters against the CAA between December of 2019 and February of 2020,” said Professor and historian Dr. Audrey Truschke from Rutgers University in a Congressional Briefing titled “Prolonged Detention Without Trial of 12 Prisoners of Conscience” on September 28.

She added that the crackdown and assaults against students and now Prisoners of Conscience such as Umar Khalid, Meeran Haider, and Shadab Ahmed who have been imprisoned for over two years without trial were documented by local authorities, who unfortunately have their hands tied.

“Local authorities, civil rights groups, and human rights activists work at a huge risk in India. They can be imprisoned themselves. Many international human rights groups have been kicked out of the country and can no longer operate in India, Truschke said.”

This briefing focused on grave injustice being committed against 12 Muslim youth leaders who are all in prison for the last two years merely for exercising their right to free speech and protest against unjust and undemocratic laws.

“The 12 people we are talking about who have been incarcerated were the leaders of this anti-CAA protest. They were young. It was led by young women and a lot of youth,” said Kavita Srivastava, one of India’s leading veteran human rights defenders and secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

Srivastava added, “These protests led to so much visibility and questioning of this whole amendment that very soon a crackdown started. In Lucknow and other cities of Uttar Pradesh, those people who sat in protest were booked under public property, defacing laws, and the photos were put up in central places of the city and some of them were even picked up and arrested.”

To offer context on how dissenting voices are considered to insight violence, Shahrukh Alam, a widely respected lawyer with India’s Supreme Court who has been in the forefront of defending constitutional liberties joined the briefing.

“In terms of protest violence… if a situation is tense, if a situation is charged and you go and you make a speech that is like a spark and a powder keg that is very directly insightful of violence, then you would be booked, then you would be guilty of having committed an offense,” Alam said. This ruling is why the 12 Prisoners of Conscience are still in custody awaiting trial.

“Any violent act conducted by an unlawful assembly is punishable by law, she said, but you have to show that the assembly actually committed a violent act and you were part of an unlawful assembly.”

Alam also touched upon how protestors are framed as something, “more conspiratorial, as something much more than a simple misdemeanor.”

Delhi-based feminist activist and researcher and friend of prisoner of conscience, Umar Khalid, Banojyotsna Lahiri called the anti-CAA protests for which Khalid was detained, “the biggest and most peaceful single disobedience movement since independence in this country that India has ever witnessed.”

“Umar Khalid is an activist who addressed many of these gatherings across the country,” she said. “All of the 12 people that we are talking about today in this case, they were all ardent equal citizenship activists and they all protested against the religious discrimination determining citizenship.”

Lahiri expressed that speaking up against religious discrimination of determining citizenship is a crime, “then all of us are criminals.” She also thinks that putting protestors behind bars and holding them without trial is a way to silence dissenting voices.

The briefing also included video messages from family members of two of the Prisoners of Conscience who have been in police custody for two years. Shama Parveen, the sister of Meeran Haider, and Shamshad Ahmed, the father of Shadab Ahmed both expressed their sadness about the detention of their respective family members.

Govind Acharya, the India & Kashmir Specialist for Amnesty International USA said, “The decision to arrest and jail activists is obviously a conscious effort to silence dissenters.”

Acharya called for members of the diaspora in the United States and Canada to fight for marginalized communities in India. “It’s a hard slog but you can have an impact,” he said. “The most direct impact if you live in the US or Canada is to contact your member of the US House or your Canadian Member of Parliament.”

The briefing was co-hosted by Genocide Watch, World Without Genocide, Indian American Muslim Council, Hindus for Human Rights, International Christian Concern, Jubilee Campaign, 21Wilberforce, Dalit Solidarity Forum, New York State Council of Churches, Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America, India Civil Watch International, Center for Pluralism, American Muslim Institution, Students Against Hindutva Ideology, International Society for Peace and Justice, The Humanism Project and Association of Indian Muslims of America.