India: Arbitrary detention of Afreen Fatima’s family members and demolition of their house

15/06/2022
Urgent Appeal
Sankhadeep Banerjee / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP

IND 003 / 0622 / OBS 047
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment /
House demolition / Stigmatisation
India
June 15, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.

Description of the situation

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary arrest of Afreen Fatima’s father and the arbitrary detention of her mother and sister, as well as the demolition of their house in the city of Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh State, amid acts of repression against the Muslim minority in Uttar Pradesh. On June 10, 2022, members of Muslim communities across India organised protests against anti-Islamic public statements made in early June by two senior members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Right-wing Hindu nationalist political party in power in India and the State of Uttar Pradesh.

Afreen Fatima is a woman human rights defender and a Muslim activist who has been vocal against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act passed (CAA) in 2019. She is the former president of the students’union of Women’s College at the Aligarh Muslim University, and former councilor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University students’union.

On June 10, 2022, at around 8:30 pm, a group of 10 police officers from a Prayagraj police station went to Afreen Fatima’s house, where she lives with her parents and two sisters, and arbitrarily detained her father, Mr. Javed Mohammad. The officers did not present an arrest warrant and refused to inform Javed Mohammad and his relatives about the place he was being taken to. It was only on the following morning his relatives learned he was being held at the Crime Branch.

On June 11, 2022, at 12:30 am, another group of around 10 police officers went to Afreen Fatima’s house and arbitrarily detained her mother and younger sister, Mses. Parveen Fatima and Sumaiya Fatima, respectively, without a warrant. They were taken to an undisclosed location and after several hours it was known that they were detained at the Civil Lines Women’s police station.

One hour later, at 1:30 am, the policemen returned to Afreen Fatima’s house and cordoned off the building. At around 3:00 am, a team of police officials again arrived at her house and attempted to illegally detain her while she was with her sister-in-law. Afreen Fatima resisted attempts to detain her, citing the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment Act) 2005, which prohibits the arrest of women after sunset and before sunrise. Following the detention attempt, Afreen Fatima filed a complaint before the National Commission for Women.

On the same day, the police hung on the front door of Afreen Fatima’s house a notice issued by the Prayagraj Development Authority. The document warned that the building would be demolished on June 12, 2022, as it was an “illegal structure”. As this action was taken over the weekend and with Afreen Fatima’s mother, father, and sister in police custody, it prevented them from initiating any legal actions to stop the demolition.

The notice was served in the name of Mr. Javed Mohammad, even though he was not the owner of the house, which was registered under his wife’s name. According to the Uttar Pradesh Urban Planning and Development Act, 1973, in all case of illegal construction, demolition is the last resort and provides for measures, such as sealing the unauthorised construction, and appeals by the aggrieved. Further, according to the criminal jurisprudence in India, criminal liability rests upon the person who commits the crime and no other family members can be punished in relation to the same offense.

On June 12, 2022, in the morning, Mses. Parveen Fatima and Sumaiya Fatima were released without charges and on condition that they would not return to their own house. On the same day, at around midday, two bulldozers reached Afreen Fatima’s house under heavy police presence and demolished it. The family was not allowed to take their personal belongings before the house was bulldozed.

On the same day of the demolition, the Prayagraj Senior Superintendent of Police stated in a media interview that Javed Mohammad had been arrested. Javed Mohammad is accused of being the mastermind of the protests in Prayagraj on June 10, 2022 - and subsequent riots - following anti-Muslim public statements by two BJP members. However, neither him nor Afreen Fatima, her mother, or sister took part in the protests. Furthermore, on June 10, 2022, Javed Mohammad had issued a public appeal on social media praying for peace and advocating for dialogues with the government to resolve the issue.

Javed Mohammad was initially arrested under First Information Report (FIR) No. 118 of Khuldabad police station of Prayagraj, registered on June 11, 2022, and his name was later added under FIR No. 176 of Kareli police station of Prayagraj, registered on the same day. Both FIRs, include sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to “unlawful assembly”, “rioting”, “disturbing peace and communal harmony”, “attempt to murder”, “deterring public officials”, “criminal intimidation” and “criminal conspiracy”. The FIRs also cite alleged violations under provisions from: the Explosive Substances Act 1908; the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015; and Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act 1984. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, Javed Mohammad was detained in Prayagraj’s Naini Central Jail. He was not allowed access to his lawyers until the evening of June 13, 2022.

In the above-mentioned interview, the Prayagraj Senior Superintendent of Police further claimed that Afreen Fatima was involved in “notorious activities” and that the “father-daughter duo propagate propaganda” (sic).

The Observatory underlines that the above-mentioned human rights violations and acts of reprisals against Afreen Fatima and her family take place in a context of ongoing crackdown against the Muslim minority and those who defend their rights in Uttar Pradesh. The Observatory expresses its concern over allegations that several houses were bulldozed by the Uttar Pradesh government in multiple cities in the state which witnessed protests and violence.

The Observatory further recalls that on June 10, 2022, following protests against anti-Islamic remarks made by two BJP members, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh State, Mr. Yogi Adityanath, ordered the police to “take such action against those guilty that it sets an example so that no one commits a crime or takes law into their hands in future”. He further directed the police to invoke the National Security Law, 1980, and the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, 1986. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, at least 300 individuals had been arrested in connection with the protests across Uttar Pradesh.

The Observatory notes that the Indian authorities in Uttar Pradesh have increasingly misused provisions of law to illegally demolish houses and properties of Muslim individuals and families in areas that witnessed protests. Furthermore, human rights defenders and activists that speak up against discriminatory policies and laws against Muslims, including the CAA, face criminalisation, arbitrary detention and stigmatisation.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary demolition of Afreen Fatima’s house, as well as the arbitrary detention of her mother and sister and the ongoing arbitrary detention and criminalisation of her father, Javed Mohammad. The Observatory urges the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him and to put an end to all acts of harassment against Afreen Fatima and her family, and to provide them with adequate housing and comprehensive reparation for the illegal demolition of their house.

Actions requested

Please write to the authorities of India, urging them to:
- immediately and unconditionally release Javed Mohammad and put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Afreen Fatima, her relatives, as well as all human rights defenders in India;
- guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Javed Mohammad, Afreen Fatima, and their relatives;
- immediately provide Afreen Fatima and her family members with adequate housing and comprehensive reparation for the illegal demolition of their house;
- carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the demolition of Afreen Fatima’s house in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law.

Addresses
- Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, email: pmosb@pmo.nic.in, Twitter: @narendramodi
- Mr. Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, email: dirfcra-mha@gov.in
- Mr. Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, email: hshso@nic.in
- Mr. N.V. Ramana, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court of India, email: supremecourt@nic.in
- Hon’ble Mr. Justice Rajesh Bindal, Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, email: cj@allahabadhighcourt.in
- Mr. Shri Devendra Kumar Singh, IAS, Secretary General Chief Executive Officer
of the National Human Rights Commission of India, email: sgnhrc@nic.in, Twitter: @India_NHRC
- Mr. Indrajeet Kumar, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, email: hrd-nhrc@nic.in
- H.E. Mr. Indra Mani Pandey, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, email: india.geneva@mea.gov.in

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of India in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, June 15, 2022

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
- email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
- tel. FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
- tel. OMCT: +41 (0) 22 809 49 39

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