Gautam Navlakha, nearly 70 years old, is a Delhi-based veteran journalist, author, civil liberties, human rights and peace activist. In the year 2011, he was denied entry into the Srinagar airport. This raised serious concerns about the freedom of speech and movement in the region. He responded to his detention, stating that it is “”paranoia unbecoming of the state authorities.””
Life and Activism
He has been actively involved with the People’s’ Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), one of India’s’ leading civil liberties and democratic rights defense organisation- working to protect, extend and help implement fundamental rights as guaranteed in the Indian constitution. He is a well-known public intellectual, writing extensively since the 1970s in popular media and as a member of the staff & editorial team of India’s leading and internationally acclaimed academic publication, the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW). He is best known for his fierce and sustained critique of the Indian state’s’ militarism against its own citizens in three broad zones – the northeastern states, Kashmir valley, and the central Indian forested zone in Chhattisgarh. Writing in the EPW in 2011 against the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 imposed on at least 131 of India’s’ 700+ districts and covering at least 150 million of its citizens.
Circumstances of arrest
On August 28, 2018, he was arrested at his residence in New Delhi during a raid along with other human rights defenders, based on purported evidence of their “”involvement in inciting violence”” on December 31, 2017 at Bhima-Koregaon near Pune, Maharashtra. The defenders were kept under house arrest as directed by the Supreme Court of India. The Court questioned the police’s decision to arrest the human rights defenders nine months after the incident, pointing out that they are all reputable citizens and that “stifling the dissent” was harmful to a democratic society. He accused the government of “shielding the real culprits” (two prominent Hindutva or Hindu supremacist activists known to be very close to the ruling regime) of the violence in Bhima Koregaon. In a statement, he called his arrest a “ploy against political dissent” by a “vindictive and cowardly government”. He was arrested by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in 2020 in the Bhima Koregaon Violence Case. He was accused of delivering a provocative speech during the Elgar Parishad conclave, which the investigative agency (NIA) claims led to the violence in Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2020.
Charges & Allegations
He was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Sections 153A, 505, 117 and 120 of the Indian Penal Code. Him, along with other human rights defenders, was arrested based on purported evidence of their “involvement in inciting violence” on December 31, 2017, at Bhima-Koregaon near Pune, Maharashtra.
In March 2020, the Supreme Court denied him pre-arrest bail and asked him to surrender before the NIA. Before his incarceration, he wrote an article in which he said, “My hope rests on a speedy and fair trial for myself and all my fellow co-accused.”
His spouse Sahba Hussain, wrote a letter about the danger to Navlakha’s life in prison and expressed concern over putting him in an egg cell along with five others. This has intensified the demand for justice and release for about 15 people arrested in the Bhima-Koregaon case.
He filed a plea before Bombay High Court bench of Justices Revati Mohite Dere and VG Bisht on June 8, 2022. In his petition, he sought access to phone calls at Navi Mumbai’s Taloja prison, among other things. The 71-year-old has been lodged in the high-security barrack called the “anda cell” since October. But Mohite Dere recused herself from hearing the matter, reported The Indian Express. With the bench’s recusal from hearing the petitions, he will have to either approach an alternate bench or request the chief justice to assign a new bench.