India – Human rights defender Teesta Setalvad at ongoing risk of detentionOn 13 February 2015, the Indian Supreme Court ordered a stay on the arrest of human rights defender Ms Teesta Setalvad and her spouse, Mr Javed Anand, until 19 February 2015. The human rights defender, her spouse and three other individuals are being investigated for allegedly embezzling funds intended for the construction of a memorial to the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Teesta Setalvad is a journalist and founder of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and Sabrang Trust. CJP was established in April 2002, in the immediate aftermath of the communal violence of the Gujarat riots, to provide legal aid to the survivors of the riots. The organisation has been instrumental in obtaining the 117 convictions against perpetrators of the violence. Sabrang Trust was established after the 1992-1993 communal violence in Mumbai, and works to promote communal harmony. Teesta Setalvad has been the victim of judicial harassment in the past, with several of the cases having been brought by the same individual.
The Supreme Court postponed until 19 February 2015 the hearing of the appeal against the decision of the High Court of Gujarat on 12 February 2015 to deny the human rights defender anticipatory bail. The High Court stated that it was “in public interest” and “in the interest of justice” that Teesta Setalvad be held in custody during the investigation, as she had failed to cooperate with the police in its investigation. The human rights defender is under investigation for charges of fraud and breach of trust and criminal conspiracy under the Income Tax Act, and the hearings on the question of anticipatory bail have been ongoing since January 2014. Teesta Setalvad remains at liberty, and denies the accusations against her, stating moreover that she has fully cooperated with the police investigation.
The charges were originally brought against the human rights defender in March 2013 in a complaint by a private individual. Teesta Setalvad reportedly provided the information requested by the Ahmedabad Police's Crime Branch in May 2013, and the police took no further action until it filed a First Information Report (FIR) against her and the four other individuals in January 2014.
The initial complaint was made against the backdrop of hearings between April and May 2013 of a case in which Teesta Setalvad was supporting the attempt of a victim of the communal violence to bring charges against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, formerly the Gujarat Chief Minister, and 59 others (including senior officials of the Crime Branch Ahmedabad and Ahmedabad police) for their alleged involvement in the 2002 riots. The Magistrate rejected the case on 26 December 2013. Allegedly, eight days later, as the CJP prepared to appeal that decision, the FIR was filed against Teesta Setalvad and the other persons.
Front Line Defenders expresses its concern at the risk of detention faced by Teesta Setalvad. Front Line defenders believes that the accusations against the human rights defender are directly linked to her peaceful and legitimate work in the defence of human rights, in particular in combating impunity in the context of communal violence.