More than 200 national and international scholars, academicians and artists issued a statementon Thursday, demanding the release of former JNU student Umar Khalid, who is under arrest for his alleged role in the north-east Delhi riots.
The signatories — including linguist Noam Chomsky, authors Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Ramachandra Guha and Rajmohan Gandhi, filmmakers Mira Nair and Anand Patwardhan, historians Romila Thapar, Ramchandra Guha, and Irfan Habib, and activists Medha Patkar and Aruna Roy — have termed Delhi Police’s investigation in the case as a “premeditated witch-hunt”.
They said the government should free Khalid and all those who they say were “falsely implicated” and “unjustly incarcerated” for protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
They said the government should “ensure the Delhi Police investigate the Delhi riots with impartiality under the oath they took as public servants bound by the Constitution of India”.
When approached, the Delhi Police spokesperson did not comment on the matter.
“We stand in solidarity and outrage, with the brave young scholar and activist Umar Khalid, arrested in New Delhi on Sept 14, 2020, under fabricated charges of engineering the Delhi riots in February 2020. He is charged with sedition, conspiracy to murder, and under sections of India’s stringent anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). This process of criminalising all dissent has been underway for a few years and even under a Covid-19 pandemic, relentless political arrests under fabricated charges are punishing the innocent long before they are brought to trial,” the statement read.
Terming the anti-CAA movement as the largest most peaceful democratic rights movement in independent India, the signatories said, “Umar Khalid became a powerful young voice of truth in this movement, speaking at close to 100 meetings across India, in small towns and big cities, upholding the values of India’s constitution; articulating the dreams of all young Indians – of freedom from hunger, deprivation, discrimination and fear. He staked his claim to the full measure of citizenship, he spoke for all marginal peoples, and above all Umar spoke for peace.”
“Currently, 19 of the 21 people falsely accused under terror laws, are Muslim. If we allow their identity to become their crime, India shall stand shamed in the global community of secular nations. These people are not terrorists, and the police investigation into the Delhi riots is not an investigation. It is a premeditated witch-hunt,” the statement added.
Earlier this month, Delhi Police commissioner SN Shrivastava had said they had examined a large number of persons regardless of their religion and party affiliation and dismissing allegations that they were targeting a particular community.
The signatories said no case has been registered against leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for their alleged hate speeches and criticised Delhi Police for their investigation into the riot cases.
Many activists have said that in the name of investigation, police arrested anti-government voices while going soft on members of the ruling party for their alleged role in the riots.
The Delhi unit of the BJP, however, said the police had investigated the alleged charges against their members but found no evidence.