NIA Raids Across AP Intended To Frighten Human Rights Defenders

The raids conducted on the residences of seven Human Rights Forum (HRF) functionaries across several districts of Andhra Pradesh on the morning of October 2, 2023 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is a clear exercise in intimidation seeking to frighten human rights defenders and impede their work. We condemn this reprehensible behaviour of the NIA.

The homes subjected to these search and seizures were of HRF AP State president UG Srinivasulu in Adoni, State general secretary Y Rajesh in Amalapuram, State vice-president KV Jagannadha Rao in Srikakulam, State secretary S Abdul Rasool in Anantapuramu, State secretary UM Devendra Babu in Yemmiganur, HRF State executive committee member K Sudha in Visakhapatnam and of A Chandrasekhar, HRF AP & TS Coordination Committee member in Anantapuramu.

These raids were pursuant to a FIR registered on 23-11-2020 in the Munchingput police station of Visakhapatnam district (now located in ASR district) with the NIA hoping to recover ‘incriminating documents and materials, which are relevant to the investigation of the case’. No such incriminating material was found anywhere in these seven premises. These raids have only facilitated the NIA personnel confiscating the mobile phones of 5 HRF functionaries as well as other electronic equipment like hard drives, a laptop and some literature in a roughly six-hour search.

Seizure of electronic devices including mobiles without even providing cloned copies to the owners results in immediate lack of access to precious work-related material and contacts. It amounts to an overwhelming loss. When asked when these devices would be returned, the NIA officials said if no incriminating material is found, they could be claimed from the NIA Branch Office in Hyderabad. This might take a very long time. To confiscate these devices in such a sudden manner results in a stunning dispossession. It is not only a deprival of valuable property of the functionaries concerned but also of their right to livelihood, privacyand human dignity. This amounts to an infringement of Constitutional rights. There is also the very serious concern of potential evidence-tampering of electronic data. As we have stated in the past, a sound legal framework and requisite guidelines that are in tune with Constitutional principles are much required in this area.

We have also gathered from a release put out by the NIA that raids were conducted on Oct 2 across 53 locations in AP and 9 in Telangana on the homes of activists belonging to various social organisations and one arrest made. The NIA release also describes HRF as a ‘front organisation of the Maoists’ This is a plain canard. Anyone familiar with HRF’s conceptual understanding of human rights and our activity over the years would know this to be a brazen untruth. Seeking to criminalise our human rights activity will never succeed. HRF is not an appendage of the Maoists or any other political party. Formed on October 11, 1998, HRF has turned 25 this month. We shall persist in spreading a human rights culture in society with the certitude that a broad-based and truly independent human rights movement is desirable and possible.

The NIA is widely perceived, and rightly so, as a faithful instrument of the ruling dispensation at the Centre that is deployed time and again to stifle dissent. The real purpose of its baseless accusations and investigations is to intimidate, isolate and shame Rights activists into silence.It ispart of a concerted attempt to diminish and delegitimise the very notion of human rights in the public eye. The intention clearly is to harass those critical of the political establishment’s retrograde policies and practices.

It must not be forgotten that human rights defenders are citizens who care deeply about society- no matter how resolutely our rulers would like us to forget the fact. How can they justify the cost of deploying scores of NIA personnel, trained and employed, using crores of taxpayer rupees, to ‘investigate’ fabricated allegations that donot stand a chance in court!

HRF demands that the NIA desist from such trivialisation of the law and stop attempts to harass Rights activists. The Sedition law and UAPA must be repealed as such statutes ought not to have any place in a democracy.

VS Krishna
S Jeevan Kumar
HRF AP&TS Coordination Committee members


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