Video Proves Case Against Faisal Khan is False: Lawyer Colin Gonsalves - Indian, American activists demand Khan’s immediate release - IAMC

Video Proves Case Against Faisal Khan is False: Lawyer Colin Gonsalves — Indian, American activists demand Khan’s immediate release

December 10, 2020 

On this International Human Rights Day, Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), and Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) held a press conference to call on the Indian government to immediately and unconditionally release Gandhian peacemaker Faisal Khan from prison in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Faisal Khan is the National Convener of Khudai Kidmatgar (Servants of God), an organization and movement devoted to interfaith harmony and peace. This movement was launched by freedom fighter Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (also known as Frontier Gandhi and Badshah Khan) in 1929, and revived by Faisal Khan in 2011.  

Sunita Viswanath of Hindus for Human Rights laid out the simple facts of the case, “Faisal Khan is a Muslim Gandhian peace activist. He was arrested because he did namaz, which means Muslim prayer, in the courtyard of a Hindu temple. The truth is that the priest invited him to pray there, but four days later the same priest filed a police complaint against Faisal Khan and he was arrested on November 3rd, more than a month ago.”

Colin Gonsalves, Faisal Khan’s Legal Counsel, stated that even though evidence in the form of videos and photographs were made available to the court proving that Faisal Khan asked to go outside to offer namaz, and that it was the temple priest who instead asked him to pray on the temple premises, the judge refused to view the video and later wrote in his ruling that no evidence was offered by defense. Mr. Gonsalves expressed cautious optimism that the courts will soon release him. 

Documentary maker and human rights defender Anand Patwardhan agreed that there is a strong case to free Faisal Khan, but expressed his concerns and emphasized the critical importance of global attention on human rights in India: “That doesn’t give me absolute confidence because we are in a very peculiar situation, an unprecedented one. So we can’t completely be sure that having a strong case means that we will win. So the pressure that you are putting is absolutely important. The world is watching, and this is something that will make the Indians stay in some check.” 

Other highlights of the press conference:

Colin Gonsalves, Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India, Founder of Human Rights Law Network, and Faisal Khan’s Legal Counsel, gave concrete details of charges against Faisal Khan: 
“Faisal Khan’s background, inspiring work, and the awards he has won, establish his credibility and the improbability that he would do anything to encourage a division between communities…He visited Mandir after Mandir speaking beautifully to the Pujaries, who received him warmly…The Court says that there was no video or photographs showing him reciting couplets [from Ram Charita Manas]…but the court did not bother to look at all the links we had provided. The video recording provided by Anand Patwardhan is so spectacular that it is clear that there was no crime.” 

“On the Namaz: Our pleading is, he told the Pujari – ‘It is Namaz time and I want to go outside the Mandir and we will do our Namaz and come back for lunch.’ And the Pujari says, ‘Not necessary. We have a place at the back of the Mandir please do it there. It will save you some time’… The delay in the filing of the FIR (First information report) for three days shows that certain developments took place, conversations took place, certain people intervened. As a result of which a complaint which would normally be filled within 1 hour of the incident is filled 3 days later. A very important point…Then there is the accusation of him falsely appropriating the work of – Khudai Khidmatgar, which is not worth talking about at all. This is not a blasphemy case at all. It’s a hate speech case.” 

“The evidence is totally in our favour. That this should happen shows the weakness of our legal system in Uttar Pradesh and the ability of political people linked to CM Yogi of course. Naturally, to influence or pressure the complainant – the Pujari, but also to bring pressure on the Judges…The photos are very clear, the recordings are very clear, the couplets are crystal clear and I think we have a pretty good chance of getting Faisal out, but keep your fingers crossed. You never know, nowadays with the judiciary; but the people who’ve got all the information together have done a spectacular job in giving us information for the Court case.” 

Sunita Viswanath, Hindus for Human Rights, spoke of the importance of Hindus voices of resistance against Hindutva, “Hindus for Human Rights has a special voice in calling for his release as progressive and inclusive Hindus who live by the spirit of ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ which means that all the universe is one family, and that we are one.”

Minhaj Khan, Indian American Muslim Council, spoke of Faisal Khan’s arrest in the context of the targeting and arrests of Muslims across India, especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh: “The arrest of Faisal Khan by the Uttar Pradesh Government is a vindictive act of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, whose hatred for Muslims has long been well known. Even among the Hindu rightwing fascists belonging to the RSS parivar, Adityanath is the most vile example

…Justice also demands that he spend not another night in a prison cell on these bogus charges against him. Equally important to point out now is that the blasphemy laws under which he has been accused are the laws that India should outlaw…In a robust democracy, people like Faisal Khan are feted, not imprisoned. He is a prisoner of conscience. We demand his immediate freedom.”

Govind Acharya, Amnesty International-USA, connected the arrest of Faisal Khan to the spate of other arrests that we have seen in India and to the shutdown of Amnesty International-India: “We in Amnesty International got a taste of this as well.

On September 30, we officially heard that Amnesty International India was forced to close because of a series of actions aimed at hindering our work. We got a lot of media attention worldwide. Our organization being forced to close is part of a pattern and we have to ask what does the Indian government have to fear? But our work will not stop. It has emboldened Amnesty International to fight for justice in India. William L. Watkinson said in 1907 that it is “better to light the candle than to curse the darkness. And organizations like the Indian American Muslim Council and Hindus for Human Rights are critical to seek justice in India.” 

Rajmohan Gandhi, Biographer, Scholar and grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi, delivered an impassioned statement for Faisal Khan, who is a close friend of his. He talked about the history of Khudai Kidmatgar and the role Faisal Khan is playing in reviving this movement for interfaith peace and harmony. Rajmohanji’s speech was pre-recorded and can be viewed here. He brought particular attention to the need for Hindus and Indians to speak up and demand justice, particularly for Indian Muslims: “There are around 200 million Muslims living in India. Making 200 million Indians feel uncertain about safety or equal rights in their country is not the recipe for a harmonious future.

Most Hindus would like their Muslim brothers and sisters to enjoy dignity and equality. I urge them to speak out and demand justice for Faisal Khan, and for all who are being denied their rights.”

Anand Patwardhan, Indian documentary member and human rights defender, has already written in detail about Faisal Khan’s case in the Indian Express and Scroll. He took this opportunity to speak about one of the thousands of other prisoners of conscience in India: “I’m also worried about the others who are in jail, like Umar Khalid for example. On the 23rd of this month, it will be his 100th day in prison. Someone like Umar has not received the public attention that he needs to get his release. He has been victimized because he is a Muslim just as Faisal has been victimized because he is a Muslim.

Umar Khalid never talked about violence. He spoke about using nonviolence to fight against the Citizenship Amendment Act.” He went on to talk about the “formula” being used to target dissenters, “If you are a Muslim, you are a Muslim terrorist. If you are a Hindu, you are an urban naxalite. And if you are a Dalit, you are a pure naxalite, neither urban nor rural.”

“This is the language that has been popularized through their fake news agencies which are running the show today. It is very hard for us to counter this media assault. We do our little bit. A 5 minute film that gets seen by a few hundred or a few thousand people on the internet. But they have all the media in their hands. They control the media because they control the people who own the media.” 

He concluded: “So what we are living through today is much worse than in 1975 when it was a declared Emergency and we knew what we were up against. Today this is an undeclared Emergency: The people who run the country are not only the people in parliament. They are the people who have the big money in our country, They control every institution.” 

Medha Patkar, Veteran Indian social activist, spoke from the frontlines of the farmer protests outside Delhi. It was so important for her to speak for the immediate release of Faisal Khan, whose work she has known for years, that she braved the decibels of the protesters by getting into a car to speak to us: “It is unfortunate that today we should be talking about ‘Hindus’ for human rights and ‘Muslims’ for human rights, etc. Such is the scale of human rights violations by the Indian government in every facet of our society and in every aspect of our lives.” She also appealed to the group to broaden the call to include all human rights defenders who are in jail for the crime of defending Indian democracy.
Shaffaq Mohammed, Member of the European Parliament since 2019, spoke to us from the United Kingdom, and focused on the need in the world today for interfaith unity in the face of right-wing intolerance not just in India, but in Europe and the world. He said,

“ Its obvious who I am from my surname that I’m a Muslim. But I want to work with Hindus for Human Rights and I want to reach across the divide. You guys are in America, I am here in the United Kingdom , and our speakers are from India. And we’ve got to say, yes, we ‘ve got our unique differences in terms of religions but actually we are human beings and we want to be humane, and we want to speak out for people like Faisal Khan who at the moment don’t have a voice. And those people in authority and power, that’s the thing they want the most, to say to people like Faisal Khan, nobody cares about you. And our message today, with all of us coming together, is that we do care about Faisal Khan. Not only Faisal Khan, but all those other human rights activists, those people that want to bring communities together in harmony.”

And he went on to say, “It’s really important that we all come together and keep on shining that light on the intolerance that’s happening at the moment and let’s ensure that the likes of Faisal Khan are freed and are allowed to do their well worthy work that’s badly needed in India to bring those different faith communities together on one platform.

Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director, Interfaith Center of New York; Associate Minister, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church referred to Article 25 in the Indian Constitution, which proclaims equality of all religions: “The concept of the state practicing equal distance from all religions [as opposed to separation of church and state] was a model for the rest of the world. It is a pity that we should be gathered here to ask India to follow its own constitution.”

Rabbi Alissa Wise, Deputy Director, Jewish Voice for Peace and JVP-Action, stated, “It is no secret that the greatest threat to the forces of domination and control is the threat posed by stretching arms of solidarity across faith, religion, race, gender, ethnicity…There is great power in interfaith solidarity. One of the tools [governments] wield so readily in response is to divide our solidarity by propagating the idea that we must fear each other. That we must isolate and insulate. What they cannot do is to bend our will, so they…jail and incarcerate powerful cries for political freedom. The priest at Nand Baba temple and Faisal Khan were engaged in an ancient, sacred practice of hospitality. Just like Abraham, my ancestor in the Torah. In the book of Breishit, Genesis, we have a story of Abraham encountering guests in his town, and he offers them water, to bathe their feet, to enter his tent. Woe to all who criminalize and fear such tender gestures, such core tenants of an ethical, free, just society.”

Ani Zonneveld, Founder and President of Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), said: “Badshah Khan was a political and spiritual leader known for his nonviolent opposition, and a lifelong pacifist and devout Muslim. He was a close friend of Mohandas Gandhi, founded the Khudai Khidmatgar or “Servants of God” movement in 1929, and as a result suffered from harsh crackdowns with solitary confinement by the British Empire…So when Hindus for Human Rights came to us about Faisal Khan, a follower of Badshah Khan’s peacemaking practise, it was obvious we needed to be here to support. And for all those out there, regardless of race, religion or what your political affiliation is, your rights don’t matter if you don’t speak up for the rights of others. Please stand in solidarity with Faisal Khan.” 

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, Vedantic Scholar and Professor of Religion, closed the press conference with a powerful statement from the perspective of an inclusive and egalitarian Hinduism. “Today, this vision of inclusivism and hospitality, grounded in divine and human unity, is threatened by the rise of a version of Hindu nationalism which marginalizes minority religious traditions, and brands their followers as alien and anti-national. It is a nationalism that sees diverse religions as fortresses to be defended and not as inviting well-springs where human beings can meet in friendship to share and to learn from each other. Blinded by ignorance, mistrust and hate, it cannot celebrate in joy the bonds of interreligious friendship. It is nationalism that is threatened by human beings offering prayer in each other’s sacred space. It is nationalism that imprisons a Faisal Khan.”

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