Activist Sudha Bharadwaj, who was arrested along with four others on 28 August, rejected the Maharashtra Police’s accusation that the accused had “clear links” with Maoists. In a hand-written statement issued on 1 September, Bharadwaj, who is currently under house arrest, said the police had “totally concocted” a letter to implicate her.
“It is a totally concocted letter fabricated to criminalise me and other human rights lawyers, activists and organisations,” the letter read.
Bharadwaj’s statement was shared through her lawyer Vrinda Grover.
At a press conference in Mumbai on Friday, the Maharashtra Police said that Bharadwaj had written a letter to a certain “Comrade Prakash”. The police had also read out passages from seized letters allegedly establishing the links between the Naxals and those arrested.
Bharadwaj, a visiting professor of Law-Poverty and tribal rights at the National Law University (NLU), Delhi, said that the purported letter shown by the police is a “mixture of innocuous”.
She claimed a number of human rights lawyers, activists and organisations were deliberately named to cast a stigma over them, obstruct their work and incite hatred against them.
“I categorically state that I have never given Rs 50,000 to hold any programme in Moga. Nor do I know any Comrade Ankit who is in touch with Kashmiri separatists,” she wrote.
The activist, who is also the general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Chhattisgarh, said that she knows Gautam Navlakha as “a senior and respected human rights activist whose name has been mentioned in a manner to criminalise and incite hatred against him”.
Navlakha is journalist and civil rights activist who is also involved with PUCL. He has also served as a convener for International People’s Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir. He was picked up by the Pune Police from New Delhi on the same day as the other four.
Early this week, the police raided the homes of activists and lawyers from five states – Varavara Roa in Hyderabad, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, Bharadwaj in Fariadabad and Navalakha in Delhi. All five were arrested.
Lawyers of the arrested activists slammed the Pune Police for trying to indulge in media trial by publicly sharing sensitive information that is part of investigation.
“What police has done today in the press conference is wrong. Even defence lawyers do not have access to these documents, which the police claim as evidence against accused persons. It is clear that the police is indulging in media trial to put pressure on the judiciary,” Rohan Nahar, lawyer for P Varavara Rao, was quoted as saying by Indian Express.
Vernon Gonsalves’ lawyer Tosif Shaikh, too, backed the “media trial” claim stating that the police does not have strong evidence to prove allegations.
On Friday, ADG (Law and Order), Maharashtra Police, Parambir Singh said at a press conference in Mumbai that the arrests were made only after “we were confident that clear links have been established”.
“Evidence clearly establishes their roles with Maoists,” he said adding that letters exchanged between the activists point to the plotting of a “Rajiv Gandhi-like” incident.