PEN International and PEN Delhi are concerned over the recent questioning of Apoorvanand Jha, a board member of PEN Delhi, in connection with the wider investigation into the north-east Delhi riots that took place in February 2020. While Indian authorities have the legitimate right to bring those who perpetrated violence to justice, the targeting of supporters of peaceful protest goes against India’s established tradition of free and open debate, and is contrary to the constitutional right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Apoorvanand is a professor at the University of Delhi and has criticised the Indian government’s passing of the controversial 2019 Citizenship (Amendment) Act. On 3 August 2020, Apoorvanand was questioned for five hours and his phone was seized.
After his release, Apoorvanand released a public statement: "I spent five hours there. The Delhi Police also considered it necessary to seize my phone for the purpose of investigation. While cooperating and respecting the rights of police to conduct a full, fair and thorough investigation, one can only hope that the probe would focus on the real instigators and perpetrators of the violence against a peaceful citizens’ protest and the people of north-east Delhi."
In response to Apoorvanand’s interrogation, Salil Tripathi, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, said: "The law enforcement authorities in India have a legitimate duty to identify those who perpetrated violence on innocent civilians earlier this year in Delhi. But they seem to be confused about who they should investigate - instead of identifying and charging those who incited or perpetrated violence, the authorities are targeting peace activists, academics, human rights defenders, writers, and scholars who were at the forefront of defending the rights of those protesting peacefully. The interrogation that Dr Apoorvanand has been subjected to, as well as the taking away of his cell phone, had one intention - to intimidate him and others so that they would not scrutinise or challenge the authorities. Instead of that, they should direct their energy to find out who incited and committed the violence, and bring them to justice, and let Apoorvanand and others do what they are meant to do - hold the authorities to account by speaking truth to power"
PEN International urges the Indian authorities to cease and desist from using a legitimate criminal investigation as a means to stifle voices of peaceful dissent, the freedom of which is enshrined in the Constitution of India.
For further information please contact Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: firstname.lastname@example.org