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Indian Freelance Journalist Detained Under Terror Laws

Prashant Rahi

A freelance journalist and activist from the Indian state of Uttarkhand was arrested under the country’s draconian counterterrorism laws on September 1, said Amnesty International. Prashant Rahi was placed in pre-trial detention on a court order under the country’s draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for his alleged support of the Communist Party of India (Maoists), or Naxalites.
According to New Delhi-based Peoples’ Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR), Rahi’s arrest was preceded by that of another activist, Hem Mishra, a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Amnesty said that Rahi was an activist seeking legal aid for people arrested on suspicion for alleged support of the Naxalites, which is a banned organisation in India. There are conflicting reports as to whether he was on his way to meet a Naxalite leader, or a lawyer, at the time of his arrest.
The London-based Amnesty International sent out an ‘urgent action’ alert on September 25 appealing for a fair trial for Rahi who is detained in Nagpur Central Jail in Maharashtra state because “parts of the UAPA, under which he has been arrested, do not meet international human rights standards and could lead to violations of his right to a fair trial. The UAPA allows detention without charge for up to 180 days, which is far beyond international standards. It also contains no provisions for adequate pre-trial safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment.”
While Amnesty said that Rahi was not under no imminent threat of torture, an earlier alert (September 13) dispatched while Rahi was in the custody of the Aheri police, it flagged its possibility.
The Naxalites are a radical organisation that advocate and use violence to secure social justice for the poor and marginalised in parts of central and western India. They are known to carry out raids against the police and government agencies as well as wealthy, rapacious landlords seen as exploiting the poor.
The Times of India said in a report on September 28, “In a press release, the Western regional committee spokesperson [of CPI-M] Shriniwas has claimed that the … police have been framing social activists labelling them as Naxal sympathisers for their own vested interests. The rebels have claimed that the cops have been trying to suppress the voices of the intellectual and activists to stop them from bringing fore the oppressive measures of the government forces.”
Commenting on the arrest and detention of Rahi and Mishra PUDR said, “That there is no real allegation of any crime against both Hem Mishra and Prashant Rahi, it is evident from the fact that both have been charged solely on the basis of the UAPA. For, it is this law that makes normal social and political activity into a crime solely on the whims and fancies of the police. Banning of political organisations and converting any association with such organizations and their opinions into a crime is what opens the gates to the law becoming an instrument of injustice.”
This is not the first time Rehi has been arrested for his activism. He was arrested in Uttarakhand in 2007 and allegedly tortured in detention by the police, says Amnesty. He was released on bail in 2011. The allegations of torture were not investigated.
PUDR supports this claim: “Arrested in December 2007, alleged to be a most-senior Maoist leader, Prashant was kept in solitary confinement through most his 3 year 8 month stay in the jail. Once released on bail, Prashant took upon himself to visit those imprisoned as Naxalites all over the country and to help them obtain access to a lawyer. To this end, he was regularly travelling to across the country collecting details of cases and reaching the same to lawyers.”

Seventh Anniversary of the “Black Spring” Marked by Protest

On Monday, the Cuban opposition movement “The Ladies in White”(pictured right) began a week of protest to mark the seventh year anniversary of the “Black Spring,” a media crackdown where 75 journalists and librarians were imprisoned between March 18th-20th in 2003. The Committee to Protect Journalists(CPJ) states that 22 of these individuals still remain imprisoned for their dissident opinions

Reuters reports that the movement, which was awarded the 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, initiated a mostly silent protest, the only words spoken was the phrase “Zapata lives!”

“Zapata” refers to Orlando Zapata Tomoyo, a member of Cuba’s Republican Alternative Movement and one of Amnesty International “Prisoners of Conscience” who died in prison on February 23rd after a 85 day hunger strike. This course of action was in protest to poor prison conditions.

“All of the journalists are suffering from medical problems that have emerged or worsened during their..incarcerations,” a two year old CPJ report said.

Cuban officials have always asserted that those imprisoned are agents of the United States seeking to destabilize the country. The dissidents were convicted under Law 88 and Article 91, laws enacted by the Cuban government to protect the nation from foreign influence. Cuba has been subject to a 50 year embargo embargo by the U.S. which Amnesty International has described as “immoral.”

However, in an open letter to the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Reporters Without Borders called on Brazil and its regional partners to exert more pressure on the Cuban government to release the prisoners, stating that the regime’s struggles against the embargo “does not excuse the brutal treatment and humiliation of journalists, activists, trade unionists and their families.”

According to the Associated Press, Guillermo Farinas, a fellow imprisoned Cuban, was hospitalized earlier this month. The 48 year old independent journalist had began a hunger strike in response to the death of Zapata and to continue the protest for better prison conditions.

“He remains firm in his hunger strike,” his mother told the news service.

Photo Credit: Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Shadi Sadr: Activist, Journalist, and Human Rights Lawyer Arrested in Iran

The recent arrest of journalist, activist, and lawyer Shadi Sadr in Iran shows that the country still is not safe for anyone who decides to speak out against the government.

Amnesty International announced on Friday that Shadi Sadr was violently arrested amidst a wave of activist arrests made by Iranian officials in recent months. Sadr was walking along a busy road with a group of women on their way to morning prayers when men in street clothes dragged her into their car. She managed to escape–losing her headscarf and jacket in the struggle–but was recaptured and beaten with batons before being taken to an unknown location. No reason was given for the apparent arrest.

“In reality, Shadi Sadr has never endangered national security, unless the Iranian national security is inextricably based on the oppression of women,” says Rochelle Terman who has worked with Sadr.

Sadr is a human rights lawyer who has done extensive work in women’s rights. Until it was shut down by authorities, she ran a legal advice center for women named Raahi. She also founded the first website dedicated to the work of Iranian women’s rights activists in Iran and is a member of Women’s Field where she has worked on the “Stop Stoning Forever” campaign.

“This is the latest of a continuing series of high profile arrests of Iranians – students, journalists, intellectuals, political and civil society activists,” said Malcolm Smart, Middle East Director for Amnesty International.

Since her illegal capture she has been held in Tehran’s Evin prison and her home and office has been searched. Sadr, who has a husband and ten year old daughter, was arrested in 2007 among 33 other women brought in for conducting a peaceful protest of the unwarranted arrest of 5 other female activists.

Sadr’s friend who was with her at the time of the arrest shares this account of the events:
“It was then one of the officials from the opposite side attacked her and was pulling onto her scarf. Shadi was resisting his force when the scarf came undone. Shadi again escaped. This time two other people appeared unexpectedly, one of them carrying a spiral baton. They took Shadi and beat her violently while she continued to resist them.” You can read the full account on the Women’s Field site here.