UN Human Rights Panel condemns detention of Safoora Zargar

By Rabia Shireen

The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group against the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has termed the arrest and custody of student-activist Safoora Zargar from Jamia Millia Islamia University a violation of Universal declaration of human rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party.

The Working group has adivsed that the Government ensures compensation and other reparations to student activist Safoora Zargar. The Narendra Modi government arbitrarily arrested her for allegedly playing a role in the northeast Delhi violence last year. Zargar was three-months pregnant when Delhi police arrested her in April 2020.

Under the UN High Commissioner’s office for Human Rights, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) requested India to take the necessary steps to remedy Zargar’s situation without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms”.

As per tge report, Zargar had suffered a “deprivation of liberty,” contravening “universally recognized human rights, particularly the right to freedoms of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly” and several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The body called on the Government to ensure “a full and independent investigation” of the case. And measures against those responsible for the “violation of her rights.” Zargar had said she was allegedly made to sign blank sheets of paper, the conditions of her incarceration, alleged discrimination, and curbing her right to protest.

Safoora Zargar, an MPhil student at Jamia, was arrested by the Delhi Police in April last year and booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). She was accused of instigating communal violence that swept across north-east Delhi in February 2020, leaving several dead.

The UN panel reported there was no legal basis for Zargar’s detention as the police arrested her in an “irregular manner,” and she was detained for an alleged offense for which she is not named. The complainant, in that case, is the police. The panel noted that “there was no necessity for an urgent arrest of the student activist, however serious the charges,” given that she was pregnant.

UN human rights panel also stated that the offenses prevailing to the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, the Arms Act, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act were added after her arrest. It observed there has been “a general pattern” of charging activists under the provisions of the UAPA in India.

Zargar was later released as the Government didn’t oppose her bail plea, apparently on humanitarian grounds. The Government had claimed that its decision not to oppose bail for Zargar should not be seen as a reflection on the case’s merits.

The Working Group claimed that the allegations regarding Safoora Zargar’s detention to the Indian Government on July 22 and requested for response by September 21, 2020. “The Working Group regrets that it did not receive a response from the Government, and neither did the Government request an extension of the time limit for its reply, as is provided for in the Working Group’s methods of work”.

The Ministry of External Affairs(MEA) had not responded to the HRC body’s decision. However, in February, the MEA had reacted sharply to another WGAD indictment of the Government in the detention of British businessman Christian Michel, as well as to comments by the Human Rights Council Chief Michelle Bachelet who has criticised the Government over the farmers’ protests, actions against NGOs like Amnesty International, and has sought to intervene in a case against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

“The Working Group should be aware that India has robust grievance and redressal mechanisms against allegations of violations of human rights, a vibrant and independent judiciary and a ‘category A’ National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) compliant with the Paris Principles,” the MEA had said in its response on the Michel case.

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