VOICES FOR FREEDOM (VFF) CONCERNED AT TARGETING OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS BINAYAK SEN, TEESTA SETALVAD, DALJIT SINGH BITU, BHAI JASPAL SINGH MANJHPUR & PAL SINGH. FREEDOM OF FAITH AND HUMAN DIGNITY ARE AT STAKE. NEW DELHI: 7 January 2011: ... Voices For Freedom (VFF) expresses deep distress at the systematic targeting and persecution of human rights defenders by government agencies as well as by organized groups. Sudip Minhas, Executive Director for Voices For Freedom, said, “Erosion of freedom of faith and disregard of special rights for vulnerable sections such as Tribals and Dalits as major issues facing the nation -- not just in the New Year 2011 -- but the second decade of the 21st Century”. The recent arrest of Binayak Sen who worked with the state government on health sector reform, has also strongly criticized the government on human rights violations during the anti-Naxalite operations. While advocating non-violent political engagement, in May 2007, he was detained for allegedly supporting the outlawed Naxalites, thereby violating the provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. The Raipur sessions court judgment against civil liberties, defender and health activist Binayak Sen has provoked outrage. His two-year long detention had drawn protests from the world over. The only substantial charge against Sen is that he passed on three letters from Narayan Sanyal, an undertrial, suspected -- but not yet proved to be a Maoist-- to the Maoist leadership. Advocate Rajwinder Singh Bains, in a recent Human Rights seminar conducted in Panjab, said, Bhai Daljit Singh Bittu, a Sikh leader and Chairman of Shiromani Akali Dal’s (Panch Pardhani) charge-sheet filed by police is just a bundle of waste papers and there is nothing substantial in it to support charges against him. Bhai Bittu is charged by the police under infamous Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, which is a masked revival of black laws like TADA and POTA, for paying counseling fees to the lawyers, and helping school children for paying their school fees. All funds were paid through legal means such as Bank deposits and receipts were kept in office records. How these receipts prove that Bhai Daljeet Singh was trying to breakup the country, he asked. Pal Singh, an elderly spiritual man who’s given up comforts of living in west to go back to Punjab to promote spiritual life style without drugs, and other intoxicants to which Punjab youth are increasingly addicted, is still held without bail on charges yet to be proven. Freedom of faith and human rights are special victims in last two decades. We recall the killings that took place in Panjab from 1984-1996, the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, the pre-planned mass violence against Christians in Kandhamal, districts of Orrisa and Karnataka. Ongoing deaths, injuries and killings in cold-blood of civilians in Jammu and Kashmir, including young girls and boys, most of them innocent, peaceful protestors, or even just bystanders causing democracy to come under severe strain and almost absent . VFF urges the Union Government to proactively resolve the unprecedented prison term for humanist doctor Mr. Binayak Sen, bring to an end the harassment of brave activist Ms. Teesta Setalvad who is currently targeted by both state and rightwing fundamentalist organizations, release Bhai Daljit Singh, Bittu, Bhai Jaspal Singh Manjhpur, Prof. Gurvir Singh and Pal Singh France from prison and for all cases to be dropped against them who have been falsely accused of taking part in "anti national activities”. India’s much trumpeted commitment to tolerance; it’s forward looking constitution and all inclusive polity set in a multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society seems too little to dress the felt unwillingness on part of India to be on parity with the international community when it came to human rights violations against the marginalized. As Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch aptly puts it: India is a vibrant electoral democracy with an abysmal human rights record. Dr. John Dayal, All India Christain Council (AICC), Secretary General, said, “It is tragic that a great republic such as India doesn’t have a sufficiently strong civil society and civil liberty mass movements which are required to monitor fault lines and lacunae in the administration of justice. A few daring individuals -- at great risk to their own lives -- and a handful of human rights groups have kept alive the spirit of the Constitution and taken up the cause of the common man victimized by extremist groups or a power-crazed governance system. People such as Binayak Sen and Teesta kept alive the pursuit of justice for the victims.” Dr. Sudip Minhas, Executive Director of Voices For Freedom, said, “The micro-minorities need to be protected. Justice denied for the killings in Panjab from 1984-1996 and in Delhi in November 1985, constituting of a Sikh Genocide by the state, is a sign to get away with impunity in Gujarat where a large number of muslims were killed, followed by the killings of Christains and now in Kashmir. The Dalits have always been oppressed and anyone who raises their voice such as Dr Binayak or Daljit Singh Bittoo faces the same fate”. She added, there is a need “to raise our collective voices, the Sikhs, Christains, the Dalits and the Muslims to call upon the government to ensure that a bill against communal violence is brought before Parliament that will address the fears of micro-minorities. It is high time that such changes are implemented“ Voices For Freedom plans to organize a series of educational seminars and consultations on these issues to educate the minority communities.