In the wake of violent attacks on marginalized communities in India in 2018, the Maharashtra police arrested several activists and lawyers who historically advocated for the rights of these communities. A preliminary review of the judicial records in this case raises serious concerns of procedural irregularities, abuse of process, and violations of fundamental human rights. Several United Nations’ (UN) experts on human rights have expressed concern that the arrests and charges were brought in retaliation for the defendants’ legitimate human rights work.
In the present case, while the accused have been subject to pre-trial detention, there are serious grounds for concern that the government has not demonstrated sufficient evidence of a direct and immediate connection between the actions taken by these individuals and any threat to security sufficient to justify the charging of the defendants. Furthermore, there are grounds for the concern that the charges are not motivated by any concern for security but are in fact meant to prevent the defendants from supporting certain marginalized groups. The accused have all argued that they have been regular targets of criminal investigations and charges, in an attempt by the government to stop them from protecting, defending, and speaking out about issues faced by marginalized communities in India. According to the court documents, there have been multiple criminal charges filed against all of these individuals.
The charges that these individuals are facing, even if found to be unsubstantiated, can ruin their reputations, marking them as ‘anti-national.’ Additionally, the time and resources required to continually defend against such allegations takes a significant toll and has chilling effect on their ability to exercise their profession as lawyers and to engage in legitimate human right work.
In light of the significant procedural irregularities to date, the Center is concerned that the proceedings against these individuals will not comport with India’s international treaty obligations including its obligations to preserve the rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association, respect for fair trial rights, freedom from arbitrary detention. This preliminary report outlines irregularities in the pre-trial proceedings and potential violations of the right to freedom of expression and association. The Center will continue to monitor the case and update this report as the case progresses.