Civil society demands release of Umar Khalid from ‘unjust arrest’

‘Do citizens have rights to oppose present govt., policies?’

At a public meeting held at the Press Club of India in New Delhi on Monday to mark a year of student leader Umar Khalid’s arrest in connection with the northeast Delhi riots, several civil society members, including activists, journalists and parliamentarians, raised questions over whether the citizens have the right to oppose the government and its policies under the ruling dispensation.

The speakers demanded his release from “unjust imprisonment” and said the government had targeted the “public spirited activists and youth” through the investigation by the Delhi police.

Stating that Mr. Khalid is “one of the brightest and most uncontaminated minds of this age,” Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Kumar Jha said, “In these difficult times, you will not find heroes in films but behind bars for speaking against the government.”

“The government,” he alleged, “could not deal with Shaheen Bagh, hence it resorted to demonising it.”

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan said, “It is nearly two years since the anti-CAA protests began. It was an exemplary protest where political parties were not involved and it were the women and the public spirited youth who came forward. The Constitution was being explained to the children and the preamble was being read out. The protest was against a law which, by several factors, was against the Constitution as it is a discriminatory law.”

Stating that there were recorded evidences of people carrying out violence, Mr. Bhushan said, “Despite videos, the country’s finest public spirited activists and Muslims were targeted. It is a conspiracy to frame innocent people and allow the guilty to go scot-free under the garb of an investigation.”

Syeda Hameed, former member of the Planning Commission, said, “Umar Khalid’s only crime was that he was upholding the Constitution and was raising his voice against the CAA-NRC-NPR. He stood by those women, children and ‘dadis’ who had never stepped out earlier. Shaheen Bagh was a courageous movement which spread to other parts of the world as well. The protest had become a fountainhead of ‘Inquilaab’.”

‘Remove UAPA’

The victims were made conspirators, said Zafarul Islam Khan, former Chairperson of the Delhi Minorities Commission.

“There should be a high level judicial inquiry, which still has not happened. Several of the FIRs were clubbed together so that proper investigation does not happen. Local victims are also not being helped much even though they were the ones most affected. We need to ensure black laws such as the UAPA are removed, else this pattern is bound to continue,” he said.

Siddharth Vardarajan, the founding editor of The Wire, said, “The manner in which law enforcement is working in Delhi, the actual conspirators of communalism are actually being given a free pass.”

Other speakers included senior journalist Bharat Bhushan and farmer leader Jasbeer Kaur.

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