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Lawfare in Bangalore: Charging Amnesty with Sedition

Interview with Seema Mustafa |
How Hindutva forces are misusing law to silence independent opinion.

An FIR was filed charging Amnesty International wirh sedition for a meeting it had organised on Kashmir in in Bangalore. Seema Mustafa said the meeting did not look for political solutions, but was only for looking at the experience of the people in Kashmir. One such instance was the Machil encounter case, where the army had courtmartialed five soldiers. No anti-Indian slogans were raised; nothing in the meeting could have invited any charge, let alone sedition charges.

The police were present and video recording of the meeting was also made available to them, but they didn't appear to believe the evidence of their own eyes. They filed an FIR against Amnesty and “unknown persons”. 

The response of the Congress government in Karnataka response was initially weak. They appeared to have given  in to the pressures of the ABVP and BJP. Only after 4-5 days, the Congress came out opposing the sedition charge, and only then the police backed off.

If holding meetings on such issues lead to charges of sedition, we seem to be heading for difficult times.

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Rough Transcript

Prabir Purkayastha (Prabir): Hello and welcome to Newsclick, this program with The Real News. Today, we have with us Seema Mustafa, an eminent journalist. I will discuss issues related to what are called sedition charges that are being banded about in the Indian press. We have the case of Bangalore and the Amnesty, where you were also charged apparently with sedition. Can you tell us a little more about the actual case?.

Seema Mustafa (Seema): Yeah, because for two three days nobody seemed to know what had happened. The event was pretty innocuous and like I said not also very well organized. And there were a whole bunch of people who came, saying they were Kashmiri Pundits. Obviously most of t hem were not, two or three definitely were; and one of them was included in the panel I was moderating. I have been told by Amnesty that all that we have to do is that we are not looking at political solutions. We are not looking at other things; you just speak to them because its a campaign they are running about injustice and violations; and how people haven't got justice. One of the family members was from the Machil encounter case, which the army itself has recognized as a human rights violation and has sentenced in a court martial six people, six soldiers. So it wasn't something coming out of no where. So basically, the idea was it is their stories, how they had run around for justice, before they got justice. That was it.

There were no anti-India slogans. Now, the Azaadi slogans, it is something that you have heard for fifty years or so. And then there was one group calling the other traitors, anti-nationals; then there was another group which stood up and shouted Azaadi slogans. So having said all that, in the function itself there was not even a single thing in that function, which could have invited any section – even the minimal section of the law -- let alone sedition charges. So it was really shocking and surprising to find this out. And then when we got to know that there was a complaint that was filed, even then. I believe, Amnesty went with the video recording of the entire event to the police and said see this, do your preliminaries, you will know there is nothing.

Prabir: And the police was present in that event...

Seema: And the police was there big time- you know, they were there. They were part of the whole thing. Probably, they were there in all of the entire video recording as well. The police again did not believe the evidence in front of its eyes and went on two days later to file an FIR. The FIR was of course minimalist. It was against Amnesty and unknown persons. Then the investigation began to find out, you know, name the unknown persons. Some of us who were included in the complaint were demanded be transferred to the FIR as well along with others. ABVP kept up the protests because now, they got very emboldened. It realized that the state government, the Congress government in Karnataka, is not going to stop them and the protest which could have ended probably at the first day. Protest instead went on and on and on.

Prabir: Part of it was Congress weak kneed response and complicity in some sense.

Seema: Absolutely. So one aspect of it was that the ABVP – and the whole thing because it was a meeting on Kashmir -- they had to take it over. The other part was that because it was a meeting on Kashmir there has to be sedition charges. So all that was taken care of. But it was a Congress ruled state and there on, the Congress took it over. It took four to five days to realize that they are making a monkey out of themselves and there was nothing in the video that would not hit them. There was not even a line that they could take forward to support the FIR. I think there were differences between the Chief Minister and the Home Minister, the Home Minister and the central command of the party. Whatever their politics was, but it took them four- five days to start backing off. Even now, the case hasn't been withdrawn.

Prabir: But there is no formal charge sheet filed. It's only the FIR which is there and there is an investigation that is supposed to be going on. And publicly, now the Congress government has said they don't think there is anything in the FIR.

Seema: Yes. I think people are still skeptical about the Congress, having seen them in the first five days, they have to be very sure that they continue with this. Let's see, how that goes.

Prabir: Thank you Seema. This is all the time we have in Newsclick today in this episode. Keep watching Newsclick for further such instances.

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