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Indian authorities must immediately put an end to the excessive use of force in response to large scale protests in the country that has resulted in the death of at least two people, including a child, and in many others suffering injuries since last Friday, Amnesty International India said today. The organization also called for the immediate and unconditional release of those arbitrarily arrested solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
In the last few days, thousands of people took to the streets in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir and Telangana calling for the arrest of Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal, the former spokespersons for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling political party, for making statements deemed insulting of Prophet Mohammed in a prime-time TV news debate.
“The Government of India is selectively and viciously cracking down on Muslims who dare to speak up and peacefully express their dissent against the discrimination faced by them. Cracking down on protesters with excessive use of force, arbitrary detention and punitive house demolitions by Indian authorities is in complete violation of India’s commitments under international human rights law and standards,” said Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International India Board.
On 10 June, media reported an incident where, police personnel can be seen striking batons, pelting stones and shooting bystanders during protests in Ranchi, Jharkhand. Another bystander was shot six times by the police while returning from the market. Two protesters including a 15-year-old child was fatally shot in the head by the police. Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, police may only use force for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and may not use more force than needed to achieve this objective. Moreover, police may use firearms only as a last resort and when strictly necessary to protect themselves or others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury; the intentional lethal use of firearms is only permissible if strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.
In another video reported by multiple media outlets and shared by many on Twitter including the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, a police officer is repeatedly hitting detained male protesters with batons in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh while they cry in fear and pain and one protester complains of a fractured arm. Instead of criticizing the use of force, it was celebrated by former police officers and BJP politicians on social media. Baton strikes while a subject is under control are unnecessary and disproportionate, and amount to using batons punitively – which amounts to torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, a violation of international law.
“Presenting and treating all protesters, including peaceful ones, as a threat for public order is deeply worrying and is part of an alarming escalation of the states’ measures targeting Muslims. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister and various state chief ministers have done little to show that they disapprove of any statement portraying Muslims as a risk for public order or embedding other stereotypes and prejudices that may contribute to justifying discrimination and violence against Muslims. They should publicly show their opposition for any such statement” said Aakar Patel.
Instead, in a continuing blow to human rights, the authorities carried out the unlawful and arbitrary demolition of houses belonging to Muslims suspected of being “key conspirators” of the violence that erupted during the protests in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh. On 10 June, activist Javed Mohammed, his wife and younger daughter were detained along with many others by the police. On 11 June, a backdated notice was pasted on the wall of the family’s house at 11pm in the night before the planned demolition. Javed Mohammed and his elder daughter Afreen Fatima, a student activist, have been vocal in their criticism of the government specially against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act. While the authorities cited illegal construction as the reason for demolition, the notice was issued in the name of Javed Mohammed who did not even own the demolished property. On 12 June, the authorities demolished the two-storey house amounting to a punitive measure and a violation of the right to adequate housing. Houses of many other protesters were similarly demolished in Uttar Pradesh.
It is evident that in the absence of any genuine consultation and a complete departure from due process of law, these demolitions stand in absolute violation of the right to adequate housing as enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which India is a state party and has been done to inflict punishment on the community for raising their voices against injustice.
“The State’s response to current protests is not only deplorable but also marks the latest escalation in the suppression of dissent. The Indian authorities must carry out a prompt, thorough, effective, impartial and independent investigation into all the human rights violations allegedly committed by law enforcement officials and other public officials against protesters and human rights defenders. Law enforcement officials who used the force excessively should be charged, whenever there is enough evidence. Victims should also have access to reparations including compensation,” said Aakar Patel.
© Amnesty International 2022