‘The cost of speaking up’
Critics of India’s Modi govt face sedition charges
NEW DELHI: Sharjeel Imam was a little-known research scholar and a student activist until Indian police launched a manhunt across five states to nab him for a protest speech he gave calling for a month-long road blockade in the country’s northeast.
“Create debris on the railway tracks and roads,” Imam told the crowd, exhorting them to cut off the northeastern state of Assam from the rest of the country.
Massive protests had broken out in Assam and elsewhere in India in December after a law was passed that fast-tracks naturalisation for some religious minorities who immigrated illegally from some neighbouring countries but excludes Muslims.
In the wake of his speech, some leaders of prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party labelled Imam a “secessionist”. A lawmaker from Modi’s party said that people like him “should be shot dead publicly”.
In January, the 31-year-old was arrested and charged as an enemy of India under a British colonial-era sedition law. Modi’s government has increasingly brandished the law to silence critics, intellectuals, human rights activists, filmmakers, students and journalists, with police arguing that words or actions of dissent make them a threat to national security.
Official data reveals as many as 332 people were arrested under the sedition law between 2016 and 2018, though only seven were convicted, suggesting that police have struggled to gather evidence against the accused. – AP