NIA Raids Intended to Cast Disgrace on Human Rights Activism

Personnel of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) along with local police conducted a search and seize raid on the residence of VS Krishna, Human Rights Forum (HRF) AP & Telangana Coordination Committee member in Visakhapatnam last week. The raid started at about 5.35pm on 31 March 2021, and ended at 2.30 am on 1 April 2021. In all, the NIA team seized six hard disks, one mobile, three sim cards, three SD cards and a few documents from his house. All his and his family’s bank details were photographed. The NIA team also interrogated him for a total period of about eight hours at their offices in Vizag on April 1 and 2.

We have also gathered from an NIA press release dated April 1 that the Agency had “conducted searches at 31 locations spread across eight districts of Andhra Pradesh namely Visakhapatnam, Guntur, Prakasam, Srikakulam, Kurnool, Krishna, East Godavari and Kadapa and four districts of Telangana namely Ranga Reddy, Hyderabad, Medchal-Malkajgiri and Medak.”

These raids are pursuant to a case registered at the Munchingput police station, located in the Fifth Schedule region of Visakhapatnam district on November 23, 2021 containing charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA), sedition, criminal conspiracy and various other IPC provisions. The substance of the charges is that the accused belong to frontal organisations of the proscribed CPI (Maoist) and are doing its bidding. The NIA had taken over the case on March 7, 2021.

The HRF reiterates what we have stated soon after the lodging of the FIR in November last year: “The accusations against VS Krishna of Human Rights Forum and functionaries of several other rights, literary, and dalit organizations is clearly an exercise in intimidation intended to stifle lawful dissent and protest. We have no hesitation in stating that the contents of the FIRs are a litany of lies. In the Munchingput FIR, VS Krishna has been accused of influencing the Vakapalli rape survivors to depose falsely against the policemen. This is an atrocious allegation. HRF along with many Adivasi, womens’, and mass organisations were active participants since 2007 seeking justice for the 11 Vakapalli women who were raped by special forces personnel. It is because of the sheer resilience of the women of Vakapalli and the intervention of the High Court in 2012 and the Supreme Court in September 2017, that the trial is continuing in the SC, ST Special Court at Visakhapatnam. Thirteen accused police personnel are presently on trial. While two of the Vakapalli women had died in the intervening years, the remaining nine came to Visakhapatnam and deposed in court. HRF, along with several other organizations have provided them with food and shelter to be able to depose in the trial. It is certainly not a crime to provide food and shelter to Adivasi women witnesses who have come from remote areas to depose in a criminal trial mandated by the law. It is because of this solidarity and sustained rights activism that the police are now seeking to intimidate VS Krishna in what we believe to be a clear case of vindictiveness.”

The charges brought about in the Munchingput FIR are a catalogue of fabricated and sometimes farcical accusations. There is a deliberate attempt at wrongful and malafide prosecution. It can only be termed as a rampant abuse of the criminal justice system. It is becoming evident now, following the recent NIA raids, that some kind of a story of a grand conspiracy of ‘Urban Maoism’ is being sought to be orchestrated in the States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

What is also clear is that these search and seizures by the NIA are intended to cast disgrace on human rights activism. HRF believes that it is part of a concerted attempt to diminish and delegitimize the very notion of human rights in the public eye. At the end there will in all likelihood not be any judicial determination of guilt of the accused, but only acquittal. However, the intention of the government is to make the process itself the punishment, to endlessly harass those critical of the political establishment’s policies and practices. Invoking of the UAPA, an enactment that is fundamentally incompatible with democracy and civilised norms and imperils political freedoms, is meant precisely to serve this purpose. Like several other special legislation, UAPA mocks at established canons of jurisprudence and legal scholars have described it as an instrument of State tyranny. Recent amendments to it bestows the government with even more unrestricted powers that go against the basic tenets of the Constitution.

Also, the seizure of hard disks from VS Krishna’s residence and his mobile without even providing him with a cloned copy raises serious questions. When asked when he could get them back, the NIA personnel said that if no incriminating evidence was found, he could claim them from the NIA Special Court at Vijayawada. This might take forever. The hard drives contain personal as well as work-related material gathered over decades. To take them away in this sudden manner has resulted in a staggering deprivation.

The seizure of personal digital devices and their contents during investigation results in not only a dispossession of valuable property of the activists but also of their right to livelihood, privacy and human dignity. This amounts to an infringement of Constitutional rights. There is also the very serious concern of evidence-tampering of electronic data. Clearly, a legal framework and requisite guidelines that are in tune with Constitutional principles in this area are required right away.

We state emphatically that all accusations against VS Krishna are absolute untruths brought about by exceptional misuse of lawfully sanctioned authority by the police. This is being done because the HRF, of which he is a founding-member and a key activist, has been consistently critical of the excesses of State instrumentalities and ongoing undemocratic policies.

HRF demands that the NIA and the State governments of AP and Telangana drop the fabricated accusations against VS Krishna and members of other rights, Dalit and women’s organisations. There must be an immediate halt to attempts at suppressing dissent. Seeking to criminalise our human rights work can never succeed. We are not an adjunct of either the Maoists or any other political party. HRF shall continue doing what it has been doing since it took birth in 1998 with the certitude that a broad-based and truly independent human rights movement is desirable and possible.

The UAPA and Sedition laws must be removed from the statute books.

K Sudha    
HRF AP State general secretary    

 UG Srinivasulu
(HRF AP State president


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