Amnesty International has again warned that India was becoming a dangerous place for peaceful protesters, citing ruling party leaders’ remarks against demonstrators protesting a citizenship law passed last year.
In a statement, Amnesty International said that while protesters had largely ensured demonstrations across the country remained peaceful, political leaders resorted to making “hateful statements” about them.
“Authorities have failed to protect peaceful protesters from violence,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India, referred to in the statement.
India has been witnessing extensive protests against the law since it was cleared by the country’s parliament and received presidential approval on December 12 last year. The law gives migrants escaping persecution from neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh an easier path to citizenship.
Critics say it is further proof that Modi, encouraged by a resounding election victory this year, is moving quickly to reshape India as a Hindu nation and weaken its secular foundations.
Amnesty International cited an incident in which Union Home Minister Amit Shah asked the audience at a campaign rally to “press the button with such anger that the current is felt at Shaheen Bagh,” referring to a neighbourhood in the capital New Delhi and the epicentre of the protests largely led by Muslim women.
It also expressed concern at Union Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur for encouraging a crowd to chant: “Shoot the traitors of the nation.” According to the group, this chant is often used against anti-citizenship law protesters.
Amnesty International India’s recent fact-finding efforts in the northern city of Varanasi, found that many protesters who were injured while demonstrating were afraid to seek medical attention from nearby hospitals and travel to distant areas in the fear of being arrested.
“Protesting against the equally divisive Citizenship (Amendment) Act by our elected representatives. Public officials must be held to stricter standards when it comes to speeches that are discriminatory, advocate hatred or incite violence. Such speeches must definitely be addressed by disciplinary or criminal sanctions”, said Kumar.
The rights group feared that law could lead to scores of citizens being declared stateless across India.
“These are genuine concerns and the people have the right to peacefully protest. But ever since the CAA [citizenship law] was passed in the parliament in December 2019, the government of India has done very little to assuage these fears. Instead, the peaceful protesters have been threatened, demonised and branded as anti-nationals, arrested under repressive laws or treated with violence,” said Kumar.