Hyderabad: On March 31, National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials conducted raids at 31 residents of human rights activists, lawyers and poets in eight districts of Andhra Pradesh and four districts of Telangana, and arrested six activists.
The case pertains to an FIR originally registered by the Munchingput police station in Visakhapatnam district on November 23, 2020. It was re-registered by the NIA on March 7, 2021, and 63 activists were booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and under sedition charges for having alleged “maoist links”.
Civil society organisations have demanded that the NIA and Telangana and Andhra Pradesh police revoke all “fabricated” FIRs against activists.
“During the searches, 40 mobile phones, 44 SIM Cards, 70 Storage devices like Hard Discs, Micro SD cards & Flash Cards, 184 CDs/DVDs, 19 Pen Drives, Tab, Audio Recorder, Rs.10 lakhs in cash from one accused, sickles, axe, machetes besides CPI (Maoist) flags, as well as huge number of incriminating documents, handwritten letters of CPI(Maoist) party literature, CPI(Maoist) press notes etc. have been recovered (sic),” the NIA stated.
The houses of activists associated with the Human Rights Forum (HRF), Civil Liberties Committee (CLC), Patriotic Democratic Movement (PDM), Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), Kula Nirmulana Porata Samithi (KNPS) and Praja Kala Mandali were raided by the NIA.
Among the arrested were Pangi Naganna, Anduluri Annapurna, Jangarla Koteswar Rao, Manukonda Srinivasa Rao, Rela Rajeswari and Boppudi Anjamma.
Notably, the NIA has conducted these raids even as writ petitions have been pending before the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, seeking the quashing of FIRs at Munchingput and at Piduguralla in AP’s Guntur district. The High Court had reportedly granted interim protection to the petitioners (accused whose names appear in both FIRs) by directing the police not to arrest them until further orders.
“In both Telugu states, human rights workers, civil liberties activists, women's rights activists, writers, academics and lawyers have been targeted for a while now. It is clear that anyone who has the capacity to highlight issues, raise public consciousness against the excesses of the State and build solidarity is facing the wrath of the Governments – both Central and state,” said a press release by the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM).
V.S. Krishna, convener of the HRF’s AP and Telangana units, whose house in Visakhapatnam was raided on Wednesday, was called for questioning by NIA on Friday. In the Munchingput FIR Krishna has been accused of influencing the Vakapalli rape survivors to falsely depose against policemen.
“It is indeed a cruel irony that while the 11 Adivasi women from Vakapalli (agency area in Vishakapatnam), who were reportedly subject to gang rape by the Greyhounds police in August, 2007, are yet to see any semblance of justice 13 years after the incident, activists like V.S. Krishna who, along with many others, have been at the forefront of supporting the rape survivors and ensuring state accountability, are now being accused of influencing the survivors to depose falsely against the policemen,” the NAPM stated.
Jeevan Kumar of the HRF told Newsclick that the cases against the activists was an attempt to “harass” the rights activists who have been dissenting against the Central and state governments. Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) stated that the accused activists have all been working within the legal framework.
“We know that this is a deliberate attempt by the NIA to collect evidence against the activists to rope them tight into the case. We have already experienced how they plant incriminating evidence in the electronic devices that were seized. On the other hand these raids are just a witch hunt and an effort to silence the voices of dissent, who have been raising their voice against violations of civil and democratic rights of the people of this country. All these activists are working in their respective fields to safeguard the constitutional rights of the people. They are working against all forms of violations of rights,” the CDRO stated.
The NAPM pointed out that the past few years have seen a series of mass FIRs and arrests, all parroting the same narrative of certain individuals ‘conspiring against the State to destabilise the government’. “Numerous activists, students, teachers, lawyers, poets have been put behind bars for years now. Human rights defenders across states are being targeted, sought to be silenced by trumped up charges and FIRs. In all these matters draconian laws like the UAPA and sedition are invoked, thereby making possible long-term incarcerations and repeated denial of bails, even to the ill and elderly persons. In effect, the ‘trial’, or rather the mere allegation, becomes the punishment,” the NAPM stated.
“It needs no emphasis that human rights activists and organisations are often performing the duty that the state agencies must, by safeguarding constitutional rights. Instead, the state, by choosing to silence and pin down the very people and groups striving to defend democratic rights, is making it amply clear that it’s only priority is serving the powerful sections, (political and corporate) violating and disenfranchising the vulnerable and marginalised,” the NAPM stated.