Update: India - Human rights defenders remanded in police custody

On 26 October 2018, the Pune Sessions Court rejected the bail application of human rights defenders Sudha Bhardwaj, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira and rejected an application by their lawyers for an extension of house arrest. All three human rights defenders have been remanded in police custody  until 6 November 2018.

On 28 August 2018, Indian Police arrested five human rights defenders – Sudha Bhardwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Varavara Rao – in coordinated raids across India. The activists have been falsely accused of being involved in the Bhima Koregan violence, which occurred on 1 January 2018 during the commemoration of the 200 year anniversary of a battle the Dalits had won against the Peshwas (upper caste rulers). Following an application to the Supreme Court against the human rights defenders’ arrests, they were placed under house arrest under police supervision.

On 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court held that the arrest of the five defenders did not constitute a silencing of dissent and that they were not arrested due to their dissenting views. The Supreme Court granted a period of four weeks for the defenders to seek relief (bail) in a lower court.

Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira filed bail applications before the Pune Sessions Court on 5 October 2018. Sudha Bhardwaj filed her bail application before the Pune Sessions Court on 6 October 2018.  On 1 October 2018, Gautam Navlakha’s arrest was quashed by the Delhi High Court, although the first information report against him remains. Varavara Rao has challenged his arrest before the Hyderabad High Court.

On 26 October 2018, Special Judge K. D. Vadane of the Pune (UAPA) Sessions Court rejected the bail applications of Sudha Bhardwaj, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira. The Court also rejected the application for extension of house arrest which was due to expire on 26 October 2018. Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira were taken into custody on the same evening. Sudha Bhardwaj was taken into custody the following morning. The three human rights defenders were produced before the Pune Sessions Court on 27 October 2018 and remanded until 6 November 2018.

On 27 October 2018, Sudha Bharadwaj submitted an application to court stating that she suffered from several health issues including high blood pressure. The Court ordered that the required medical facilities be provided in prison.

Prior to these arrests, in June 2018, Pune Police arrested five other defenders, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Prof Shoma Sen,  Mahesh Raut and lawyer Surendra Gadling. The five defenders arrested on 28 August 2018 had been vocal in their criticism of the arrest and incarceration of those detained in June and Arun Ferreira had provided legal representation to one of the arrested activists. The bail applications of Surendra Gadling and Prof. Shoma Sen are currently pending before court with an order due after 1 November 2018. The decision on bail has been postponed until the Supreme Court determines whether the police could be granted further time to file a charge sheet in this case: The Sessions Court had granted the police an extension of 90 days to file the charge sheet. This decision was challenged before the Bombay High Court, which quashed the extension. On appeal on 29 October 2018, the Supreme Court granted a stay order of the decision of the Bombay High Court until the next hearing of the case before the Supreme Court on  12 November 2018.

Front Line Defenders expresses grave concern regarding the arrest, incarceration and treatment of the above mentioned human rights defenders. Front Line Defenders believes that their arrest and legal persecution is directly linked to their peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights.