Hyderabad: The Human Rights Forum (HRF) on Tuesday said that the search and seizure raid by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on the residence of V.S. Krishna, HRF Andhra Pradesh and Telangana coordination committee member, is intended to disparage activism for human rights.

HRF, in a statement, said that the search and seizures are a part of a concerted attempt to diminish and delegitimize the very notion of human rights in the public eye. In the end, there will in all likelihood not be any judicial determination of guilt of the accused, but only acquittal, it said.

The raid

The personnel of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) along with local police conducted a search and seizure raid on the residence of Krishna in Visakhapatnam last week. The raid started at about 5.35 pm on 31 March and ended at 2.30 am on 1 April. In all, the NIA team seized six hard disks, one mobile, three sim cards, three SD cards, and a few documents from his house. His and his family's bank details were photographed and the NIA team interrogated him for a period of about eight hours at their office in Vizag on 1 April and 2 April.

The NIA, in a press release dated 1 April, said that the agency had "conducted searches at 31 locations spread across eight districts of Andhra Pradesh namely Visakhapatnam, Guntur, Prakasam, Srikakulam, Kurnool, Krishna, East Godavari and Kadapa and four districts of Telangana namely Ranga Reddy, Hyderabad, Medchal-Malkajgiri and Medak."

Background of the case

These raids are pursuant to a case registered at the Munchingput police station, located in the Fifth Schedule region of Visakhapatnam district, on November 23, 2020 containing charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA), sedition, criminal conspiracy and various other IPC provisions. The substance of the charges is that the accused belonged to frontal organisations of the proscribed CPI (Maoist) and are doing its bidding. The NIA had taken over the case on March 7, 2021.

The HRF reiterates that the accusations against Krishna and functionaries of several other rights, literary, and Dalit organisations is clearly an exercise in intimidation intended to stifle lawful dissent and protest.

"We have no hesitation in stating that the contents of the FIRs are a litany of lies. In the Munchingput FIR, Krishna has been accused of influencing the Vakapalli rape survivors to depose falsely against the policemen. This is an atrocious allegation. The HRF along with many Adivasi, women, and organisations were active participants since 2007 seeking justice for the 11 Vakapalli women who were raped by special forces personnel. It is because of the sheer resilience of the women of Vakapalli and the intervention of the High Court in 2012 and the Supreme Court in September 2017 that the trial is continuing in the SC, ST Special Court at Visakhapatnam," said U.G. Srinivasulu, HRF AP state president.

The 13 accused police personnel are presently on trial. While two of the Vakapalli women had died in the intervening years, the remaining nine came to Visakhapatnam and deposed in court. The HRF, along with several other organisations, have provided them with food and shelter to be able to depose in the trial. "It is certainly not a crime to provide food and shelter to Adivasi women witnesses who have come from remote areas to depose in a criminal trial mandated by the law. It is because of this solidarity and sustained rights activism that the police are now seeking to intimidate Krishna in what we believe to be a clear case of vindictiveness," said Srinivasulu.

The HRF also added that the charges brought about in the Munchingput FIR are a catalogue of fabricated and sometimes farcical accusations. "There is a deliberate attempt at wrongful and malafide prosecution. It can only be termed as a rampant abuse of the criminal justice system. It is becoming evident now, following the recent NIA raids, that some kind of a story of a grand conspiracy of 'urban Maoism' is being sought to be orchestrated in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana," said Srinivasulu.

HRF stand

The Human Rights Forum asserted that the intention of the government is to make the process itself the punishment, by endlessly harassing those critical of the political establishment's policies and practices. "Invoking the UAPA, an enactment that is fundamentally incompatible with democracy and civilised norms and imperils political freedoms is meant precisely to serve this purpose. Like several other special legislation, UAPA mocks at established canons of jurisprudence and legal scholars have described it as an instrument of state tyranny. Recent amendments to it bestowed the government with even more unrestricted powers that go against the basic tenets of the Constitution," said K. Sudha, HRF AP state general secretary.

She added that the seizure of hard disks from Krishna's residence and his mobile without even providing him with a cloned copy raises serious questions. When asked when he could get them back, the NIA personnel said that if no incriminating evidence was found, he could claim them from the NIA Special Court at Vijayawada. This might take forever. The hard drives contain personal as well as work-related material gathered over decades. To take them away in this sudden manner has resulted in a staggering deprivation.

"The seizure of personal digital devices and their contents during investigation results in not only dispossession of valuable property of the activists but also of their right to livelihood, privacy and human dignity. This amounts to an infringement of Constitutional rights. There is also the very serious concern of evidence-tampering of electronic data. Clearly, a legal framework and requisite guidelines that are in tune with Constitutional principles in this area are required right away," said Sudha.

The HRF demanded that the NIA and the state governments of AP and Telangana drop the fabricated accusations against Krishna and members of other rights, Dalit and women's organisations. There must be an immediate halt to attempts at suppressing dissent. Seeking to criminalise our human rights work can never succeed. We are not an adjunct of either the Maoists or any other political party. The HRF shall continue doing what it has been doing since it took birth in 1998 with the certitude that a broad-based and truly independent human rights movement is desirable and possible.

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