Chomsky, Ghosh Among 200 Thinkers Demanding Umar Khalid’s Release

The signatories have asked the Centre free Khalid, and have called the investigation a “pre-meditated witch-hunt.”

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Umar Khalid

More than 200 academicians, filmmakers, international scholars and authors, including Noam Chomsky, Amitav Ghosh, and Mira Nair have issued a joint statement in support of former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Umar Khalid who has been arrested for his alleged role in the February Delhi riots.

The signatories have demanded that the Centre free Umar Khalid, and have called the investigation a “pre-meditated witch-hunt.” The statement adds that Khalid was falsely implicated by the Delhi Police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Besides Chomsky and Nair, the signatories include actor Ratna Pathak Shah, authors Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, journalist P Sainath, and scholar Ramchandra Guha.

The statement demanded the government to “free” Khalid and “all those falsely implicated and unjustly incarcerated for protesting against the CAA-NRC”, and “ensure that the Delhi Police investigates the Delhi riots with impartiality under the oath they took as public servants bound by the Constitution of India.”

The statement signed by eminent personalities from across the world shared their concern and anguish at the spate of arrests of democratic voices in India.

“We stand in solidarity and outrage, with the brave young scholar and activist Umar Khalid, arrested in New Delhi on September 14, 2020, under fabricated charges of engineering the Delhi riots in February 2020. He is charged with sedition, conspiracy to murder, and under sections of India’s stringent anti-terror law, the UAPA. This process of criminalizing all dissent has been underway for a few years and even under a COVID 19 pandemic, relentless political arrests under fabricated charges are punishing the innocent long before they are brought to trial,” the statement said.

“Umar Khalid, a vocal young scholar and activist speaking up for freedom without fear and persecution, ” they said.

The statement also mentioned all those arrested under the UAPA including Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal.

“To send its chilling message to all critics, the State has chosen India’s best and brightest; the young, the fearless, the dreamers of a better country, where inequality is not a bitter pill for some to swallow, but a vile aberration to be fought against at all times,” the statement read.

“Umar Khalid became a powerful young voice of truth in this movement, speaking at close to 100 meetings across India, in small towns and big cities, upholding the values of India’s constitution; articulating the dreams of all young Indians – of freedom from hunger, deprivation, discrimination and fear. He staked his claim to the full measure of citizenship, he spoke for all marginal peoples, and above all Umar spoke for peace,” they said.

“He has been projected as a jihadi, and a figure of hate by sections of a compromised Indian media, not only because he speaks persuasively against government policies that he believes are unjust, but also because he is Muslim,” the signatories added.

The statement also talks about hate speeches given by BJP leaders, “hate speeches inciting their supporters to ‘shoot the traitors’” but “no cases have been registered against them.”

The statement also mentioned the role of BJP leader Kapil Mishra.

“The role of BJP leader Kapil Mishra has shockingly not attracted the merest police scrutiny; even though he stood in North East Delhi on 23 February 2020, along with the Deputy Commissioner of Police, and threatened that his supporters would ‘take matters into their own hands’ if the CAA protesters were not removed. This speech is widely alleged to have triggered the violence between 23 and 26 February 2020. Instead, young protestors have been targeted and thrown into jail.”

The Delhi police arrested United Against Hate member Umar Khalid on 13 September, after interrogating him for nearly eleven hours.

The arrest came merely two weeks after Khalid had written a letter to the Delhi Police Commissioner SN Srivastava, alleging that his acquaintances were being threatened with the same UAPA charges into writing statements implicating him as a provocateur of violence.

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