Condemning the ‘raids’ by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) on the homes of sixteen activists in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) said, ‘NIA and UAPA have become tools of stifling all democratic assertion and dissent by the current regime.’ These raids were conducted based on dubious FIRs registered a couple of months back. The activists under attack are long standing members of human rights, civil liberties and mass organizations. NAPM in its public statement has noted that these activists have been striving to work for the welfare and rights of the most disenfranchised peoples including adivasis, dalits, workers, farmers, minorities and women.
The raids on 31st March – 1st April, took place in the context of two FIRs filed by the AP police:
- FIR No: 47/2020: Dated 23rd November 2020 registered against 65 persons, including many rights activists, at the Munchingput Police Station, Vishakhapatnam Dist, under Sec 120 (B), 121, 121(A), 143, 144, 124 (A) r/w 149 IPC; Sec 10, 13 and 18 of UAPA; Sec 8 (1) and 8 (2) of the AP Public Security Act and Sec 25 of the Arms Act. Reportedly, the said FIR was registered based on an alleged ‘confession’ of an arrested ‘Maoist sympathiser’ vide Crime No. 47/2020 of the same police station.
- FIR No: 606/2020: Dated 24th November, 2020, registered at Piduguralla town police station in Guntur Dist, under Sec 120 (B), 121, 121(A), 143, 144, 124 (A) r/w 149 IPC; Sec 16,17,18, 18(A), 18 (B), 20,21,38,39, 40 of UAPA.
It is learnt that, in all, 92 persons have been accused in the aforesaid FIRs, with 27 names appearing commonly in both. Of these, 10 persons have been arrested by the AP police and have been in jail since Nov- Dec, 2020. According to information available, some of the activists, named in the two FIRs, at whose residences raids have taken place include:
- V Raghunath, Hyderabad; Chilika Chandrasekhar (Guntur District); V Chitti Babu, East Godavari – Telangana and Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC)
- Devendra, Shilpa, Swapna, Rajeswari (Guntur), Padma (Visakhapatnam) – Chaitanya Mahila Sangam
- V S Krishna (Visakhapatnam) – Human Rights Forum (HRF)
- Varalakshmi (Kadapa District), Arun (Kurnool District), Paani, (Kurnool district) – Revolutionary Writers association (Virasam)
- Dappu Ramesh (Hyderabad) – Prajakala Mandali
- Anjamma (Prakasham District), Sirisha, (Prakasham district) – Amaraveerula Bandhumitrula Sangham (Association of Friends and Relatives of Martyrs)
- Advocate K S Chelam (Visakhapatnam)
- Reportedly houses of some activists associated with Patriotic Democratic Movement (PDM), Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), Kula Nirmoolana Porata Samiti (KNPS) and Praja Kala Mandali (People’s Art Collective) are also under the radar of NIA.
After the search and seizure, which lasted for many hours and continued late into the early hours of April 1, 2021, the NIA issued notices to all of them u/s. 160 Cr.P.C. to attend its offices at Vijayawada / Hyderabad.
There are also multiple FIRs against activists and adivasis in Telangana, wherein people have been falsely implicated under draconian provisions such as UAPA. The FIR lodged at Tadvai police station in Mulug district of Telangana on November 2, 2020 names a long list of activists including adivasi teachers and rights defenders. In both Telugu states, human rights workers, civil liberties activists, women’s rights activists, writers, academics and lawyers have been targeted for a while now. It is clear that anyone who has the capacity to highlight issues, raise public consciousness against the excesses of the State and build solidarity is facing the wrath of the Governments – both Central and state.
‘In line with its anti-federal approach towards all areas of governance, the Union Government has also sought to ‘centralize’ investigation further by roping in the NIA, even in matters where the state government can undertake investigation. As is known, most state governments (across parties) which in any case have a history of clamp-down on rights activists, are only quick to ‘hand over matters’ to the NIA, especially when they themselves are likely to face the ‘ire of the Centre’. Thus, even in the current context, the NIA Hyderabad took over the investigation of the Vishakapatnam FIR on 7th March and began inquiries at its level, based on its re-registered FIR RC-1/2021/ NIA/HYD and also obtained search warrants from the NIA Special Court.’
It may also be noted that the NIA has conducted these raids, even as writ petitions are pending before Andhra Pradesh, seeking quashing of the FIRs. Reportedly, the High Court has also granted interim protection orders to the petitioners (accused whose names appear in both FIRs) by directing the police not to arrest them, until further orders.
‘It is indeed a cruel irony that while the 11 adivasi women of Vakapalli (agency area in Vishakapatnam) who were reportedly subject to gang rape by the Greyhounds police in August, 2007 are yet to see any semblance of justice, 13 years after the incident, activists like V S Krishna who, along with many others have been at the forefront of supporting the rape survivors and ensuring state accountability are now outrageously being alleged to be ‘influencing the Vakapalli rape survivors to depose falsely against the policemen’ !’
NAPM has observed that the past few years have seen a series of mass FIRs and arrests, all parroting the same narrative of certain individuals ‘conspiring against the State to destabilize the Government’! Numerous activists, students, teachers, lawyers, poets have been behind bars for years now. Human rights defenders across states are being targeted, sought to be silenced by trumped up charges and FIRs. In all these matters, draconian laws like the UAPA and sedition are invoked, thereby making possible long-term incarcerations and repeated denial of bails, even to the ill and elderly persons. In effect, the ‘trial, or rather the mere allegation, becomes the punishment’.
NAPM pointed out the absurdity and illegality in these FIRs of criminalizing mere possession of some literature, which is anyways in public circulation. Another ploy that the State has been resorting to is ‘confession statements’ from those in custody or arrested, to incriminate others. There is a vicious, deliberate and consistent ploy across the country today, to defame the valuable work of rights activists and groups through such sensational FIRs, raids and arrests.
By criminalizing activists, the State in effect is trying to crack down on the political work of activist organizations, be it resisting rising Hindutva and communalism, violations of adivasi and forest rights, displacement, land grab, corporate resource loot and environmental violations, caste and gender-based atrocities, exposing corrupt deals etc. NAPM noted, ‘Despite limited hope from the higher judiciary in these times, we still think it is the obligation of the Apex Court to squarely address the constitutionality of institutions like the NIA and laws like UAPA and sedition that have become political tools of harassment, intimidation and incarceration of voices that stand in defence of human rights.’
NAPM demands that:
- The Govt. of AP immediately withdraw all fabricated FIRs against the activists including FIR Nos 47/2020 (Vishakhapatnam) and FIR No: 606/2020 (Guntur) and NIA revokes its FIR RC-1/2021/ NIA/HYD.
- Telangana Govt must also withdraw FIRs registered by it against rights activists, including FIRs filed at Mulugu against adivasi youth and teachers in Adilabad.
- All activists arrested in these FIRs since Nov-Dec, be released immediately.
- The NIA return all the seized materials to the activists including phones, computers, laptops, hard disks, pen drives and literature.
- Central Govt as well as Andhra and Telangana Govt. must stop hounding democratic rights activists and end repression on human rights defenders and people’s organizations.
- A draconian law like UAPA must have no place in a free democracy. UAPA and Sedition law must be repealed. A united citizens movement against UAPA and anti-people laws is the need of the hour.