Indian police arrested prominent lawyers and left-wing activists Tuesday for alleged links to Maoist rebels, drawing a rebuke from rights watchdogs who labelled the raids a ‘massive crackdown’ on government critics.
Police carried out coordinated raids in several cities and arrested five activists.
‘These persons have been arrested for their Maoist links,’ Shivaji Bodakhe, joint commissioner of Pune police in western Maharashtra state, said.
He did not elaborate further when pressed for details.
Critics of prime minister Narendra Modi, whose right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party will seek re-election next year, accused the government of attempting to silence its opponents.
Booker-prize winning author Arundhati Roy, an outspoken critic of Modi, said the arrests were an attempt to muzzle freedoms ahead of next year’s polls.
‘We cannot allow this to happen. We have to all come together. Otherwise we will lose every freedom that we cherish,’ she said, as quoted by Indian news portal Scroll.
Amnesty International said the sweep raised ‘disturbing’ questions about whether the arrests were politically motivated. ‘India is witnessing a massive crackdown on lawyers, journalists, activists and human rights defenders, who have been critical of the state,’ the watchdog’s India chapter said on Twitter.
‘The government should protect people’s rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear.’
Activists working with marginalised Indians, including low-caste Dalits and communities close to outlawed Maoist groups, often report harassment and intimidation by authorities. In July, Reporters Without Borders warned of deteriorating press freedom in the world’s largest democracy amid a sharp rise in online hate campaigns directed at critics of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.