Former Indian Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha Wednesday alleged "emergency-line" conditions are prevailing in the country under the present regime and the arrest of five activists on suspicion of Maoist links shows that any voice of dissent is not safe.
"What happened yesterday is the prime example of assault on freedom of speech and freedom of the press," he told reporters in Bengaluru.
The Pune police Tuesday raided residences of several prominent activists in several states and arrested at least five of them for suspected Maoist links, according to Press Trust of India.
The raids were carried out as part of the probe into the violence between Dalits and upper caste Peshwas at Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune after the 'Elgar Parishad' event on December 31 last year.
Yashwant Sinha alleged that there was a 'conspiracy' to silence criticism and suppress voices of dissent.
He said the arrests showed that people who voice dissent were not safe and there were many ways to suppress dissenting voices. "The arrest of the five activists clearly shows the emergency like conditions prevailing in India under the present regime at the centre," he said.
Searches were carried out at homes of activist and poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha in Delhi, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, human rights lawyer and trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj in Faridabad and Chhattisgarh, among others, according to the PTI.
Subsequently, Rao, Bhardwaj, Farreira, Gonzalves and Navalakha were arrested under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 153(A), which relates to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place or birth, residence, language and committing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.
PUCL, Amnesty, Oxfam condemn crackdown
Describing the sweeping raids and arrests of human rights activists as "systematic and pre-meditated crackdown", the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has slammed the government for it's "concerted attempt" to crush human rights interventions and silence voices of dissent in the country.
The PUCL said that it believes that the intention of the government and the police in targeting the activists, by foisting false and fabricated cases against them, is clear and apparent from their profiles of work.
"All the human rights activists targeted in this multi-city operation by the police have been tirelessly involved in advocating the cause, and fighting for the rights, of the most poor and marginalised sections of society against serious State violations and unscrupulous corporates," PUCL said in a statement, adding that the "systematic and pre-meditated crackdown" signals the imposition of an "unofficial Emergency and is a direct attack on democracy".
"This is a deliberate strategy of the State to target human rights activists in a clear act of reprisals against them for calling out the human rights violations by the State and the police, and to intimidate those who are fighting for justice," it added.
The nationwide crackdown on activists, advocates and human rights defenders is disturbing and threatens core human-rights values, Amnesty International India and Oxfam India said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
The response came hours after the Maharashtra police raided the homes of prominent left wing activists in several states and arrested at least five of them for suspected Maoist links. It sparked a chorus of outraged protests from several lawyers, academics and authors, some of whom termed the move "absolutely chilling" and others saying it amounted to a "virtual declaration of emergency".
"Today's arrests is the second of such crackdowns on rights activists, advocates and journalists who have been critical of the state. All these people have history of working to protect the rights of some of India's most poor and marginalised people. Their arrests raise disturbing questions about whether they are being targeted for their activism," said Aakar Patel, executive director, Amnesty International India.