Teesta Setalwad was taken into custody by Gujarat Police from Mumbai last Saturday. (File)
“Completely unwarranted” and “an interference in India's independent judicial system” — that's how the foreign ministry today described comments by United Nations officials against the arrest of activist Teesta Setalvad and two others.
Ms Setalwad was taken into custody by Gujarat Police's Anti-Terrorism Squad from Mumbai last Saturday, a day after the Supreme Court reiterated the clearance given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots and criticised those “who kept the pot boiling”. She and two former police officers are now accused of filing false charges, criminal conspiracy, and fabricating evidence.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) tweeted in their support yesterday, “We are very concerned by the arrest and detention of Teesta Setalvad and two ex-police officers and call for their immediate release. They must not be persecuted for their activism and solidarity with the victims of the 2002 Gujarat Riots.”
Along with Ms Setalwad, former director general of police RB Sreekumar has been arrested. Another former police officer, Sanjiv Bhatt, who is serving a life sentence in a custodial death case, is named in the case.
“We have seen a comment by OHCHR regarding legal action against Teesta Setalvad and two other persons,” read a statement by Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs. “Authorities in India act against violations of law strictly in accordance with established judicial processes. Labelling such legal actions as persecution for activism is misleading and unacceptable,” he added.
Ms Setalwad has got support from the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, too. “Defending human rights is not a crime,” Ms Lawlor has said, “Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination.”
The Supreme Court last Friday dismissed an appeal by Zakia Jafri against a special investigation team's clearance to PM Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, and others. The court said Ms Setalvad, a co-petitioner, exploited the emotions of Zakia Jafri, the widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the riots.
"Antecedents of Teesta Setalvad need to be reckoned with and also because she has been vindictively persecuting this lis [dispute] for her ulterior design by exploiting the emotions and sentiments of Zakia Jafri, the real victim of the circumstances," the court said in its order.