‘Release Teesta, Sreekumar’: Eminent Canadians, Including Margaret Atwood, Urge President, CJI

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Over 50 eminent jurists, authors, activists, among others have expressed concern over ‘India’s diminishing democracy’.

New Delhi: Over 50 eminent personalities from Canada, including writer Margaret Atwood, have expressed concerns over “India’s diminishing democracy”, requesting President Ramnath Kovind and Chief Justice N.V. Ramana to immediately release activist Teesta Setalvad and retired IPS officer R.B. Sreekumar arrested in connection with 2002 riots in Gujarat.

In their letters to the president and CJI, they said: “The circumstances surrounding their arrest and detention would indicate that due legal process and political activism have been troublingly conflated. Such actions threaten the international reputation of the country you head, which for decades has been respected as a secular, democratic republic guided and governed by the rule of law, and the reputation of the Supreme Court of India and the Indian judiciary, which for decades has been respected as an upholder of the rule of law and the secular, democratic constitution of the country.”

“Defending human rights is not a crime,” South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly said. “These arrests are clearly reprisals for pursuing justice for victims of the Gujarat riots and attempting to hold those who were in power accountable.”

The signatories of the letters include jurists, writers, artists, civil society organisers, and public intellectuals like Naomi Klein, Peter Leuprecht, Judy Rebick, Yavar Hameed, and Rohinton Mistry.

At a press conference in Canada on Thursday, July 21, Pearl Eliadis, a human rights lawyer and one of the signatories to the letter, said that international solidarity against repression, such as these letters by eminent Canadians, is most important.

“It’s extremely important that governments be held accountable. […] the best way of doing that is to have the international searchlight of accountability pointed at them to make sure that there is no impunity for grave violations of human rights as have taken place in this particular instance,” Eliadis said.

The overwhelming sentiment at the press conference was that dissent is a hallmark of democracy, enshrined in democratic constitutions and democratic governance, and it was hoped that initiatives such as this reach the authorities and persuade them to drop their pursuit of charges against activist Teesta Setalvad and retired IPS officer R.B. Sreekumar and release them on bail forthwith.

The Supreme Court had on June 24 dismissed a plea challenging the Special Investigation Team’s clean chit to 64 people, including then chief minister Narendra Modi, in the 2002 Gujarat riots case. The plea was filed by Zakia Jafri, whose husband was murdered during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Setalvad’s NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, took up several Gujarat riot cases, including the Gulberg Society case, where the petitioner had accused Prime Minister Modi and others.

“As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with the law,” the apex court had said.

Within a day after the apex court’s ruling, Setalvad was arrested.

Also read: A First Person Account of Teesta Setalvad’s Arrest by the Gujarat ATS

The letters and the list of signatories are reproduced below.

Letter to the President of India

The Hon. Ram Nath Kovind
President
Republic of India
Rashtrapati Bhavan
New Delhi 110 004
India
presidentofindia@rb.nic.in

21 July 2022
Your Excellency,

We write with concern and urgency in the matter of the recent arrest and detention of Ms. Teesta Setalvad and Mr. R.B. Sreekumar.

The circumstances surrounding their arrest and detention would indicate that due legal process and political activism have been troublingly conflated. Such actions threaten the international reputation of the country you head, which for decades has been respected as a secular, democratic republic guided and governed by the rule of law.

We, therefore, call on you to intervene with all speed, so that all charges against Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Sreekumar be dropped and that they be released from custody forthwith.

Sincerely,

Letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India

Chief Justice N.V. Ramana
Supreme Court of India
Mandi House
Tilak Marg
New Delhi 110 001
India
supremecourt@nic.in

 

21 July 2022
Honourable Chief Justice Ramana,

We write with concern and urgency in the matter of the recent arrest and detention of Ms. Teesta Setalvad and Mr. R.B. Sreekumar.

The circumstances surrounding their arrest and detention would indicate that due legal process and political activism have been troublingly conflated. Such actions threaten the international reputation of the Supreme Court of India and the Indian judiciary, which for decades has been respected as an upholder of the rule of law and the secular, democratic constitution of the country.

We, therefore, call on you to act to remedy the situation in a timely manner, so that all charges against Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Sreekumar are dropped and they are released from custody forthwith.

Sincerely,

The list of signatories

  1. Gisele Amantea, artist
  2. Patricia Aldana, Member of the Order of Canada; Chair, IBBY Trust
  3. Margaret Atwood, writer
  4. Dr. Rachel Berger, Associate Professor of History, Concordia University
  5. Sam Boskey, Former Opposition Leader, Montreal City Council
  6. Marie Boti, filmmaker
  7. Dr. Rosalind Boyd, independent scholar, retired Professor, McGill University
  8. Dionne Bunsha, Climate and Conservation Engagement Coordinator, University of British Columbia Botanical Gardens; former journalist Frontline, India.
  9. Raj Chouhan
  10. Farzana Doctor, writer
  11. Martin Duckworth, retired documentary filmmaker, Alfred-Tessier Prix du Québec 2015 “pour son oeuvre remarquable”
  12. Carolyn Egan, President, Steelworkers Toronto Area Council
  13. Mélanie Ederer, President, Fédération des femmes du Québec (Québec Women’s Federation)
  14. Pearl Eliadis, (BSc, BCL, LLB, BCL. Oxon.), human rights lawyer; Associate Professor (Professional) of Public Policy, Max Bell School of Public Policy; Lecturer, Faculty of Law, McGill University.
  15. Yves Engler, writer and activist
  16. Taha Ghayyur, Executive Director, Justice for All Canada
  17. Dipti Gupta, professor and filmmaker
  18. Freda Guttman, artist
  19. Rawi Hage, writer
  20. Yavar Hameed, Human Rights Lawyer, Ottawa
  21. Dr. Rosalind Hampton, Assistant Professor of Black Studies, University of Toronto
  22. Dr. Michelle Hartman, Professor, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University
  23. Dr. Homa Hoodfar, Board of Directors, Women Living Under Muslim Laws; Professor of Anthropology, Emerita, Dept of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, Montreal
  24. Tara Kainer, community activist, Kingston
  25. Jooneed Khan, journalist
  26. Dr. Pasha M. Khan, Associate Professor, McGill University
  27. Naomi Klein, author, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
  28. Albert Lalonde, climate justice advocate and organizer, law scholar
  29. Dimitri Lascaris, lawyer, journalist and activist
  30. Peter Leuprecht, former Director of Human Rights and Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe; former Dean of Law, McGill University; former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for human rights in Cambodia
  31. Avi Lewis, filmmaker, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
  32. Rohinton Mistry, writer
  33. Elise Moser, writer and editor
  34. Bianca Mugyenyi, Director, Canadian Foreign Policy Institute
  35. Dr. Shree Mulay, Professor, Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  36. Vrinda Narain, Associate Professor, Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, Faculty of Law, McGill University
  37. Dr. Winnie Ng, former Unifor National Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, Toronto Metropolitan University
  38. Alex Neve, Senior Fellow, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa
  39. Dr. Elaine Power, Professor, Queen’s University
  40. Judy Rebick, writer and activist, founder rabble.ca
  41. Naila Saeed, Vice President, Canadian Council of Indian Muslims
  42. Sid Shniad, founding member, Independent Jewish Voices Canada
  43. Jean Swanson, Vancouver City Councillor
  44. Jamie Swift, author, Adjunct Professor, Smith School of Business, Queen’s University (ret)
  45. Richard Swift, political journalist and former editor, New Internationalist
  46. Nigel Thomas, writer, winner 2022 Canada Council for the Arts John Molson Prize
  47. Dr. Reeta C. Tremblay, Professor Emerita, Dept. of Political Science, University of Victoria
  48. Daniel Tucker-Simmons, Barrister and Solicitor, Avant Law Professional Corporation
  49. Stephen von Sychowski, President, Vancouver & District Labour Council
  50. Rahul Varma, Playwright and Artistic Director, Teesri Duniya Theatre
  51. M.G. Vassanji, writer
  52. Dr. Vasanthi Venkatesh, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
  53. Merrily Weissbord, writer, editor, award winning screenplay writer
  54. Paul Wilkinson, (Ph.D. CANTAB) Applied Anthropologist, Retired, former Senior Vice-President Environmental and Social Affairs, New Millennium Iron Corp.
  55. Peter White, curator
  56. Ellen Gabriel, Indigenous Human Rights advocate.