The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group against Arbitrary Detentions (UNWGAD) has taken taken note of the detention of Jamia Millia Islamia University student Safoora Zargar, who was pregnant when Delhi police arrested her in April 2020 over the Citizenship law protests and the Delhi riots. The panel adopted an opinion critical of the government’s workings, and has referred the case to three Special Rapporteurs for action, The Hindu reported.
UGNWAD has termed the arrest and custody of Jamia Millia Islamia student Safoora Zargar a violation of the Universal declaration of human rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party.
According to The Hindu’s report, in the opinion, based on a complaint from a “source” who was not identified by the UN human rights body, Zargar had suffered a “deprivation of liberty” contravening “universally recognized human rights, in particular the right to freedoms of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly” and several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The body also called on the government to ensure a “a full and independent investigation” of the case and measures against those responsible for the “violation of her rights”. Zargar had said she was allegedly made to sign blank sheets of paper, the conditions of her incarceration, alleged discrimination, and curbing her right to protest.
On 10 April 2020, Safoora was arrested while she was three-months pregnant. The MPhil student at Jamia was accused of instigating riots and of being a key conspirator in the 2020 Northeast Delhi violence, that left several dead. Zargar was later charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
In a statement, Ms. Zargar thanked the UN body for "taking cognizance" of the case, and called her case part of an “unfortunate trend”.
“I am lucky and thankful and at the same time hope that the situation for all human rights defenders will improve in future and that all political prisoners be immediately released, unconditionally,” Ms. Zargar's statement added, according to The Hindu’s report.
The WGAD report said it had written to the Indian government on July 22, 2020, with a request for a reply for information in the Zargar case within three months, but the government had not responded nor requested an extension of time.
The Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to the HRC body’s decision. However, in February, the MEA had reacted sharply to another WGAD indictment of the government in the detention of British businessman Christian Michel, as well as to comments by the Human Rights Council Chief Michelle Bachelet who has criticised the government over the farmers’ protests, actions against NGOs like Amnesty International, and has sought to intervene in a case against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
“The Working Group should be aware that India has robust grievance and redressal mechanisms against allegations of violations of human rights, a vibrant and independent judiciary and a ‘category A’ National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) compliant with the Paris Principles,” the MEA had said in its response on the Michel case.