India is among the top 10 countries that have imprisoned writers, scholars and intellectuals for their writings, works and advocacy, according to the 2021 Freedom to Write report published by non-governmental organization Pen America. He works to protect freedom of expression around the world.
According to the report released on Wednesday, 277 writers and scholars were detained or imprisoned in 36 countries last year. Among them, eight are Indians – comedian Munawar Faruqui and accused Bhima Koregaon Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Hany Babu, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Ferreira and Anand Teltumbde.
The report says more than half of those 277 people were also in prison in 2019 and 2020. At least 62 of them served sentences of 10 years or more in prison.
Faruqui was arrested in January last year in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore on a complaint that he was going to make objectionable statements about Hindu deities on his show.
However, attendees of the show had said that police detained Faruqui even before he started his performance. Indore police had also admitted there was no visual evidence that Faruqui had insulted Hindu deities. He was released on bail after a month.
The other people named in the report are charged in the Bhima Koregaon case, which concerns caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. They are among 16 people arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.
Among them, Bharadwaj is out on bail. Rao was granted medical bail, which has been repeatedly extended by the Bombay High Court since September. However, the others are still languishing in prison.
In its report, Pen America noted that many of those imprisoned in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case suffer from health issues and have been subjected to restrictions on sending or receiving letters or reading materials.
One of the defendants, tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, died in a Mumbai hospital while in police custody on July 5, nearly nine months after his arrest under the Unlawful Activities Act (prevention). The 84-year-old suffered from multiple ailments including Parkinson’s disease and contracted the coronavirus disease at Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai.
Several others, including Navlakha, complained of deteriorating health. His lawyer had also informed the Bombay High Court on April 4 that after the activist’s glasses were stolen, prison authorities had refused even to accept the one sent by his family.
The Freedom to Write report says courts have repeatedly denied Gonsalves and Teltumbde’s bail applications. “He was unable to write to his wife and lawyer and was denied bail, even after his brother died in November 2021,” the report said.
On Rao’s medical bail, the report noted that he was to remain in Mumbai, away from his family in Hyderabad. Also in Bharadwaj’s case, the report says she cannot step outside the jurisdiction of the Mumbai court without permission or speak to the media.
The US nonprofit also mentioned journalist Rana Ayyub, saying complaints had been filed to discredit her fundraising campaign for Covid-19 relief. Ayyub was “slapped with bogus money laundering charges,” he noted. However, she was not detained.
“His [Ayyub’s] This case is indicative of many others: in recent years, dozens of Indian writers and public intellectuals have faced spurious legal charges, other punitive administrative actions and threats both online and offline. online in response to the expression of dissenting views,” the report said.
He added that those who defend marginalized and minority groups and those who have spoken out against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “increasingly vocal brand of Hindu nationalism” are at risk in India.
Pen America said the Modi government also imposed internet shutdowns for 1,157 hours or 48 days last year, including in Jammu and Kashmir and the capital New Delhi during the farmers’ protest.
Citing a report by a nongovernmental organization funded by the US government, Pen America said India’s free speech environment had declined in 2021. India’s status in Freedom House’s report on political rights and civil liberties was lowered to “partially free” in the annual rankings. . In 2020, the organization’s report classified India as “free”.
“India remains the only relatively free and democratic country in the index’s top ten, an outlier but also a warning sign that the imprisonment of writers and wider restrictions on free speech represent only one element of the ruling party’s attempts to stifle dissent and entrench the politics of control,” Pen America said.
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Meanwhile, Myanmar has joined China and Saudi Arabia in the list of countries that have imprisoned the most writers, scholars and intellectuals, according to the report. These three countries have imprisoned 26 writers, academics and intellectuals each.
Myanmar has seen an increase in the number of such figures behind bars, from eight in 2020 to 26 last year following the February 1, 2021 military coup.
Other countries on the list are Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Belarus, Vietnam, and Eritrea.
The report says more than 71% of writers on its 2021 index are currently in prison. He said while 17% were free from detention, they continued to face legal battles, restrictions on their ability to work and travel and continued harassment from authorities. He said only 11% of them were released unconditionally and 1% died in custody.
Pen America said that in 55% of detention cases, charges related to national security were applied. The same national security rationale was also used when the writers were detained in 2019 and 2020 as well, according to the report.
In 2020, 273 writers were put behind bars while in 2019, 238 people were detained, according to the report.