The Advocates for Human Rights wrote a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee and Justice Balakrishnan on the 13tth of June to express its support for Human Rights activist Teesta Setalvad. The letter requested “to take over the investigation of criminal charges brought against Ms. Setalvad and her colleagues so as to ensure that criminal charges are not used to harass and intimidate Ms. Setalvad and other human rights defenders.”
The Advocates for Human Rights stated in its mail that it was deeply concerned about the risks that human rights defenders face in India. At the conclusion of her 201 1 visit to India, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, reported that she had “heard numerous testimonies about male and female human rights defenders, and their families, who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, falsely charged, under surveillance, forcibly displaced, or their offices raided and files stolen, because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The Advocates of Human Rights stated in their letter to the President of India and to the Chairman of NHRC that they share Margaret Sekaggya’s “particula[r] concer[n] at the plight of human rights defenders working for the rights of marginalized people,” including religious minorities, “who face particular risks and ostracism because of their activities.”
” With this context in mind”, The Advocates for Human Rights stated that it is “profoundly troubled” by reports of false criminal charges being brought against Teesta Setalvad and her colleagues who have been advocating for justice for the victims of the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002. “Such advocacy is a critical component of ending impunity and ensuring that the perpetrators of the violence are held accountable.”
Human rights defenders working on behalf of other religious minorities face similar risks. For example, after testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in 2000, John Dayal, Secretary General of the All India Christian Council, returned to India to face charges of treason for his testimony. The charges were ultimately dropped, but his experiences demonstrate how criminal charges can be used to harass and intimidate human rights defenders advocating on behalf of religious minorities in India.
The Advocates for Human Rights wrote in their letter to President Pranab Mukherjee and to Justice KG Balakrishnan, that it hopes that India’s new leadership and the NHRC will take prompt, effective action to ensure that all people recognized as human rights defenders in India are protected from harassment and intimidation. The Advocates for Human Rights has urged the new administration and the NHRC to uphold constitutional protections for free speech and freedom of association, and to ensure that India is an inclusive society respectful of freedom of religion for all.