Joint Press Note: The 26th of January Republic Day Farmers Protest and forcible attempts to remove peaceful protestors.

 

Joint Press Note

The 26th of January Republic Day Farmers Protest and forcible attempts to remove peaceful protestors.

 At least one person killed. 200 detained, protesters arbitrary beaten and registration of false criminal cases against the protesting leadership.
 
We write with collective concern as to farmers protest in Delhi which took place on the 26th of January 202, Republic Day. An estimated 200,000 protestors took part in a largely peaceful tractor rally that led to at least one death and resulted in the detention of 200 protesters, footage posted on social media showing people fleeing from police indiscriminately firing teargas at them and the detention and beating of protestors assembled at the Red Fort. There have been reports of protesters injured by the firing of live rounds. There has been at least one fatality of a farmer Navdeep Singh Hundal, a 26-year-old farmer from Uttarakhand at ITO in Delhi.
 
Despite the Supreme Court of India having directed the Delhi police to take a decision to allow the protest on the 26th of January, there was an abject failure to properly police this protest which has led to these events and the use of force was entirely disproportionate At other protest sites there is footage of officers seen beating protesters with batons and attacking tractors and other protest vehicles with lathis.
 
Despite a sustained attempt to demonise the peaceful protests over months, from certain sections of the Indian media, the farmers have shown maturity, dignity and leadership. As with any large scale protests, there were sporadic incidents of violence, however these did not mar what was otherwise an overwhelmingly peaceful and successful protest. By contrast, there have been no violent incidents on the Singhu, Tikri or Ghazipur borders where the protesting farmers have been camping peacefully against the three new farm bills, for the last three months. The organisers of the protest have been congratulated from all quarters as to the success in which these organised protest of mass rallies have been conducted.
 
We remind the Indian authorities of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, which prohibits the use of firearms and ammunition by law enforcement that causes unwarranted injury or presents an unwarranted risk. The international covenant on civil and political rights states that firearms are not an appropriate tool for the policing of assemblies and must never be used to disperse an assembly.
 
In the 1980’s and 1990’s Punjab and Delhi has witnessed much bloodshed cycles of violence and counter violence in which genocidal pogroms, enforced disappearances extrajudicial killings took place on a widescale and have still not been resolved, for which thousands of victims still await justice. This year also marks the 35th anniversary of the notorious Saka Nakodar shooting in which 5 innocent protestors were gunned down in Nakodar, Jalandhar for which their families are still awaiting justice. No right thinking person would wish to see any escalation of violence, retribution or a return to those dark days.
 
The Police and State Security Services are now indiscriminately detaining people, slapping charges under UAPA, terrorism, sedition and anti-national conduct on hundreds of people associated with the farmers protest, including the Farmer leadership.
 
The actions of protestors are neither ‘terrorist’, seditious nor anti national. They simply disagree with a Government policy.
 
The Government is now exercising extraordinary powers to deploy heavy security and disperse farmers protest and deny them the rights to freely protest, which is of considerable concern as the protesters are camped at various protest sites on Delhi’s borders.
 
We ask for the release of detained protesters, with reports emerging of their ill-treatment and torture in custody. An immediate CBI led investigation to establish the cause of Navdeep Singh Hundal’s death and to investigate claims that he was killed as a result of police firing or whether it was accidental as has been claimed by Delhi police. The Supreme Court should preserve all CCTV of Delhi’s CCTV entry points to unearth the truth of how the violence was allow to happen. Human rights organisations will continue to monitor ongoing developments, human rights violations and urge the Government of India to show restraint and continue to engage with the protesting farmers groups on the issue of the three farming laws. The shutting down of social media accounts, restricting internet services as well as cutting off electricity and water supply, where a large number of protestors are elderly and vulnerable. The forcible attempts to remove the protestors from the protest sites is illegal, unconstitutional and arbitrary. The registration of FIRs against the farmer leadership not only complicates a very complex and delicate process in their ongoing dialogue with the Government but is also a severe and draconian attack on their fundamental right to protest as well as their constitutional right to object to these laws.
 
Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project
Khalra Mission Organisation
Punjab Human Rights Organisation
Lawyers for Human Rights International
People’s Union for Civil Liberties
Human Rights Law Network
 
The Punjabi version of the press note is available to view – Press Note 29-01-2021 Punjabi
 
Image from the Press Conference

Representatives from 6 leading human rights organisations come together to release a joint press note. 

Press Note: Farmers in India and the fundamental right to protest

Press Note:

Farmers in India and the fundamental right to protest

International Human Rights Day 2020

 
Indian-women-farmers-protesting
 
As the protests against India’s new farming laws intensify across India, the Government of India has an obligation to protect and uphold protestors human rights, not to demonise them.
 
Weeks of protests by farmers from Punjab and Haryana intensified against three controversial farming laws which abolish Minimum Support Pricing (MSP) for farmers, led to a call for protestors to make their way to the national capital Delhi. On the 8th of December the protests had spread with farmers across India leading a country wide strike and shut down (band). Many of these poor and marginalised farmers, battled against the onset of winter amidst a world-wide pandemic travelling the 500km by foot, on tractors, scooters and other vehicles.
 
During the initial stages the farmers were prevented from entering Delhi by armed police and paramilitary forces using water cannons, tear gas and batons. The use of arbitrary force on these unarmed and peaceful protestors was condemned in the strongest possible terms. The use of water cannons, tear gas and canes (lathi charging) and other coercive measures was disproportionate and unjustified. Such measures can only be deployed where it is reasonable and proportionate to do so. In places there are credible reports of arbitrary arrest, detention with even the Chief Minister of Delhi alleging that his support for the farmers have led to his house arrest. In the present circumstances, where a large number of peaceful unarmed protestors are exercising their democratic right to peacefully protest the use of force is illegal under both Indian and international law.
 
The right to protest is a democratic and fundamental civil right under the Indian Constitution and protected in international law as an inviolable right and tradition which must be respected and upheld. We are deeply concerned of reports that the Haryana State Government has arbitrarily arrested and detained a number of leaders of farming organisations and protestors. It is reported that one protestor, who is alleged to have turned off a water cannon, has been charged with Section 307 of the Indian penal Code (Attempted Murder) others have been beaten and at various intersections farmers have had their tractor-trolleys and trucks impounded and many implicated in false and fabricated cases, a pattern which repeated during the nationwide protest in recent days. Outside of Punjab and Delhi there have been reports of arrests of 1100 people in Madurai district in Tamil Nadu of which 240 are women.
 
We are equally concerned of some sections of the Indian media irresponsibly reporting a benign and sinister motive behind the protests claiming that ‘terrorist elements’ are leading the protestors and thereby maligning the farmers and legitimate protests, without any objective basis or foundation for asserting so. The role of journalists in ensuring that events are reported in an objective and fair manner is paramount so as not to inflame an already volatile situation and we remind the Indian press of their own ethical obligations and responsibilities as set out in their code of conduct set forth by the Press Council of India which prohibits reporting of “inaccurate, baseless, graceless, misleading or distorted material” and places a positive obligation on journalists to report accurately and fairly.
 
Punjab, indeed many other states in India, have a deep-rooted proud history of protest and civil mobilisation. The role of Sikhs and Punjabis in peacefully agitating against British rule was a cornerstone of the Indian independence movement, and post Indian independence. Punjab has seen various civil protests (morchas) to secure the right of Punjab and Punjabis in the last five decades. We are concerned that during the 1980’s many legitimate demands for autonomy were similarly mischaracterised as terrorism and legitimate demands for federalism and autonomy were labelled as militancy, terrorism and violent separatism. The last mass scale mobilisation of Punjab farmers advocating for reform was the Grain Roko Morcha (stop grain protest), which culminated from the wider protests for autonomy arising from the Anandpur Sahib Resolution of 1976. The failure of the then central Government to positively engage with those issues and the brutal crackdown in Punjab which followed were instrumental in the cataclysmic events of Operation Bluestar in June 1984, the pogroms and genocidal massacres of Sikhs in Delhi and across India in November 1984, resulting in a decade of violence and insurgency between 1984 – 1995 in which thousands of Sikh youth were enforced disappeared and extra-judicially executed by state and security forces with basic fundamental rights suspended and violated.
 
In our work in documenting these deaths and disappearances during that period, we can confirm that over 90% of victims came from an agrarian or farming background. Punjab has never recovered from those scars. All right-thinking Punjabis do not wish to see a return to any cycle of violence and brutal violations of human rights that took place during this period and are concerned at the violation and curtailment of fundamental rights of those protesting against these oppressive and coercive measures as well as the demonisation and mischaracterisation of their legitimate concerns and grievances.
 
The farmers and protestors have faced serious and grave threats to their liberty and their fundamental right to peacefully assemble, association and freedom of expression and speech. If the Government of India and State Governments continue to use excessive and disproportionate force, including the use of tear case, water cannons, lathi and baton charge, as a deterrent to those who are exercising their fundamental right to peacefully protest, then India is in breach of both its own constitutionally enshrined rights and of International human rights law.
 
We call upon the State and central government to allow the protestors to exercise their right of peaceful protests without the fear of arbitrary arrest, detention or hinderance and to engage in constructive dialogue with all stakeholders in order to find an equitable solution. We remind the Government of India that the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has in recent days urged the Government of India to allow protestors to exercise their fundamental right to peaceful demonstration. We also ask the Government of India to release all protestors arbitrarily detained and the withdrawal of criminal cases against them. Both the Central and State Government must allow safe passage of farmers and protestors who are making their way to Delhi and other protest sites across India.
 
Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project (PDAP)
 
young-men-protesting-for-Indian-farmer-rights