New Delhi, India – A United Nations expert has joined global human rights groups in expressing concern over the arrest of Indian rights defender Teesta Setalvad a day after the country’s Supreme Court upheld the findings of a special investigation team (SIT) that cleared Prime Minister Narendra Modi of complicity in 2002 anti-Muslim riots.
Setalvad was picked by the anti-terrorism wing of the Gujarat police on Saturday afternoon from her home in Mumbai hours after India’s interior minister, Amit Shah, a close aide of Modi, accused her of giving baseless information to the police about the deadly anti-Muslim violence during Modi’s chief ministership of the state.
“Deeply concerned by reports of #WHRD [Human Rights Defender] Teesta Setalvad being detained by Anti Terrorism Sqaud [sic] of Gujarat police,” said Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, in a tweet describing Setalvad as “a strong voice against hatred and discrimination”.
Lawlor reiterated that defending human rights was not a crime as she urged the Indian authorities to release Setalvad and put “an end to [her] persecution by Indian state”.
Detention of prominent human rights activist @TeestaSetalvad by the Indian authorities is a direct reprisal against those who dare to question their human rights record. It sends a chilling message to the civil society & further shrinks the space for dissent in the country
— Amnesty India (@AIIndia) June 25, 2022
On Sunday, Setalvad, who long campaigned to get justice for victims of the 2002 religious violence, was produced before a local court in Ahmedabad, the largest city of Gujarat. The police have accused her of “committing forgery and fabricating evidence”, among other charges.
Setalvad said, according to a complaint shared by her aide with Al Jazeera, that her detention was illegal and that the police assaulted her during the raid.
Deadly riots under Modi
The riots triggered by a train burning incident killed, according to some estimates, 2,000 people, a majority of them Muslim. Official figures stand at about 1,000.
In one episode, a Hindu mob stormed the Gulbarg Society complex – a cluster of buildings housing Muslim families – and burned and hacked to death 69 people hiding there, including a former member of parliament, Ehsan Jafri. He had allegedly made calls to the then Chief Minister Modi for help but was rebuked, according to media reports.
#Bangalore: Protest was held by Progressives against the arrest of #TeestaSetalvad and Former DGP RG Sreekumar today. Prominent activist from Karnataka were present during the protest. pic.twitter.com/P209qhrXu6
— Mohammed Irshad (@Shaad_Bajpe) June 26, 2022
After local courts in Gujarat exonerated Modi of all wrongdoings, Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, 82, with assistance from Setalvad, moved the Supreme Court in 2013. On Friday, the court…