PUCL and human rights organisations protest against the silencing of civil rights activists in the country as shown in the recent conviction of activists Seema Azad and her husband Vishwavijay Kamal
By Team FI
The arrest and sentencing of civil rights activists Seema Azad and her husband Vishwavijay Kamal to life imprisonment has led the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and other human rights organisations in the country to call for a nationwide protest on 26th of June against alleged state sponsored crackdowns on human rights activists in India.
“The conviction of civil rights activist Seema Azad for terrorism, unlawful activities, sedition and waging war against the state is a glaring travesty of justice,” stated the press release by PUCL of the press conference held last week. According to the PUCL, academics, journalists, and representatives of various social organisations have already pledged their support to campaign for the immediate and unconditional release of Seema Azad and her husband.
Seema Azad, the Organising Secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Uttar Pradesh and her husband Vishwavijay Kamal were arrested in Allahabad on February 6, 2010. The accusation leveled against them was that they were members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) – they were charged under Sections 121, 121A and 120B of IPC and under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for possessing objectionable literature. The couple was fined Rs 20,000 and sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment.
According to the PUCL, the arrest and conviction is a bid to silence Seema Azad’s protests on behalf of mining workers and farmers. The press release presented arguments by Justice Sachar and Senior Advocate Ravi Kiran that indicated that the judgement was based on flimsy grounds and was premeditated.
Justice Sachar argued that “the only allegation against her is that she was in the possession of literature that the prosecution argued was illegal. But between possessing literature and committing an offence is a wide chasm that cannot be bridged by the flimsy arguments brought forth by the prosecution and accepted by the judge.” Justice Sachar pointed out that it is within the powers of the state government to withdraw prosecution. He urged the new government in Uttar Pradesh to nullify the wrongdoings of the predecessor government and withdraw the false charges against activists’ lodges by that government.
Senior Advocate Ravi Kiran pointed out that the literature ostensibly seized from Seema Azad which had been sealed as evidence, was opened by the prosecution without any authorization. In normal circumstances this would make the entire evidence suspect. But the judge continued to rely on this evidence.
It was also pointed that Seema Azad was given on police remand after the completion of the statutory period of 90 days. It is in this illegal custody that the police claim to have two cell phones which are also being used as evidence against her. Given the delay and the circumstances of this custody, the possibility of wrongdoing by the prosecution cannot be ruled out.
Senior Journalist Anand Swaroop Verma who is heading a campaign in support of Seema Azad argued that the judgment was prejudiced and an attempt to silence protest against government policy. He felt that Seema was being targeted since she was a bold voice against the takeover of farmer’s lands and livelihood and exposing the reality of the witch-hunt of Muslim youth promoted by the government and its security establishment in Azamgarh.