Following the arrest of journalist-activist Teesta Setalvad by the Gujarat Police Crime Branch on Saturday, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and J&K Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti, on Sunday, 26 June took to Twitter and said, "Appalled that standing with the victims has been criminalised & asking for justice is equated with hatching conspiracies."
Setalvad's arrest came one day after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by Zakia Jafri, wife of Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Mufti added that the judgment meant to act as a closure is being used to "punish the seekers of justice."
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, released a statement saying that the move is a threat "to all those who dare question role of State/ govts for their role in communal violence."
"Withdraw cases and release Teesta," the CPI(M) said in its statement.
Setalvad, an activist and a journalist, is the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) – an organisation formed to advocate for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat Riots.
A co-petitioner in the Zakia Jafri case, Setalvad testified at the United Nations Commission on International Religious Freedom against the then Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government for its role in the communal violence.
In her petition filed with Zakia Jafri, Setalvad and her organisation CJP demanded a criminal trial of Narendra Modi and 63 other politicians, alleging criminal conspiracy to fan communal tensions in the state in the wake of the Godhra Train Tragedy.
Setalvad was detained by the Crime Branch in Mumbai on Saturday and taken to Ahmedabad later that night.
The action follows the Gujarat Police's First Information Report (FIR) which names Setalvad, Former Director General of Police of Gujarat RB Sreekumar, and suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt for alleged fabrication of evidence in the 2002 Gujarat riots case.
'Witch Hunt': Mumbai Press Club Condemns Teesta's Arrest
The Mumbai Press Club, in a statement issued on Sunday, 26 June, called for dropping of all charges against Teesta Setalvad.
While terming her arrest a "travesty of justice", the statement added that it was "unacceptable that a person who has been fighting for civil justice should be accused of fabricating evidence and misleading the Special Investigation Team".
The press club's statement added that Setalvad and others have been "made scapegoats in a chilling process of vendetta unleashed by the executive and judiciary".
It said that the Supreme Court's remarks against some '‘functionaries’' who had "kept the pot boiling" was used by the Gujarat police to "punish those who are essentially human rights defenders."
Commenting on the apex court's disagreement with the petitioners, it further said that "it does not give the right to the executive to launch a witch hunt against those who had questioned the findings of the Special Investigation Team."
UN Special Rapporteur Calls for 'Release and an End to Persecution by Indian State'
Mary Lawlor, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, took to Twitter on Sunday and condemned the detention of Setalvad (now arrested) by the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad.
In her tweet calling for Setalvad's release, she said: "Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination. Defending human rights is not a crime."
‘Enabling a Fascist Authoritarian Regime,’ Says SIO India
The Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) also said the arrest of activist Teesta Setalvad and a former IPS officer by the Gujarat Police will have a "chilling effect" on the fundamental freedoms.
"The government's aim of creating an Opposition-less system is not only limited to political parties but extends to silencing all human rights defenders. This is meant to set in motion a chain of actions enabling a Fascist authoritarian regime, with activists, lawyers, students, farmers and youths facing the brunt of the police state," the SIO said in a release.
‘Sends a Chilling Message’: Amnesty International India; AIDWA and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind react
Amnesty International India, a rights organisation issued a statement condemning Setalvad's detention, and said, "Detention of prominent human rights activist @TeestaSetalvad by the Indian authorities is a direct reprisal against those who dare to question their human rights record."
"It sends a chilling message to the civil society & further shrinks the space for dissent in the country," the organisation tweeted.
The Student Federation of India expressed solidarity with Setalvad, with All India President VP Sanu calling her "an impeccable human rights defender" being "badly targeted by the Indian state for speaking truth to power."
The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) made an appeal to people to join a nationwide protest on 27 June, against "the wrongful detention and prosecution of noted activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad and others."
"We condemn this naked and brazen attempt to silence and criminalise those who stand for constitutional values and who have struggled against very difficult odds to try to achieve justice for the victims of 2002," the statement read.
Further, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), too, strongly condemned Setalvad’s arrest. In a statement issued on Sunday, JIH vice-president Salim Engineer said that human rights activists work to defend the rights of the oppressed and persecuted people.
The All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) expressed its solidarity with Teesta Setalvad, and released a statement demanding that "the false case against her be immediately withdrawn and harassment stopped."
Congress Hits Out at Centre Over Allegations
The Congress called the BJP's allegations on alleged connections between AICC President Sonia Gandhi and activist Setalvad "baseless," and said that the charges were "in direct contempt of" the ruling by the Supreme Court.
The Opposition party's reaction came a day after BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra alleged at a press conference that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, especially its education ministry, had given Rs 1.4 crore to an NGO run by Setalvad, and this money was used to run a campaign against Modi and also to "defame" India.
"The charge by BJP spokespersons that Teesta Setalvad acted at the behest of Congress President Smt. Sonia Gandhi is wholly bogus and baseless. The Congress party condemns these allegations most forcefully," Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.
(With inputs from PTI.)