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Indian Dalit scholar slapped with anti-terror law, faces arrest | News

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Mumbai, India – On Monday, Bombay’s High Court granted a brief respite to Dalit scholar and activist, Anand Teltumbde, who has been facing arrest for his alleged links to a banned Maoist organisation.

But Teltumbde’s troubles are not over yet. The court will decide on February 22 if he can be arrested or granted bail in a case, critics and legal minds say, has been used by the government to target civil rights activists.

Teltumbde has been charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) under which the accused can be jailed for years without bail.

The UAPA was first introduced in 1967 as an anti-terror law, but it has been made tougher after a number of amendments giving sweeping powers to law-enforcement agencies.

If you commit murder you are entitled to bail. Under UAPA even if you are innocent, you lose 4-5 years of your life

Mihir Desai, Teltumbde’s lawyer

Police in Pune district have filed a case against at least 22 people, including Teltumbde, in connection with having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) after violence broke out in January 2018 in Bhima Koregaon, a village about 170km southeast of Mumbai city.

Teltumbde, a professor at the Goa Institute of Management, claims the charges are “concocted” and based on “completely fabricated evidence”.

‘Question of police impartiality

At the heart of the prosecution’s case is a tranche of letters – allegedly containing correspondence with Maoists – that the police claim were recovered from one of the accused, prison rights activist Rona Wilson.

Some of the letters mention the names of the activists, besides containing instructions for procuring arms and explosives, exhortations to “spread panic”, and a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Experts however, have raised doubts on the authenticity of the letters.






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“Even the dissenting judge in the Supreme Court judgement found the letters to be dubious, while questioning the police’s impartiality,” said Teltumbde’s lawyer Mihir Desai.

“In the letter, a Maoist claims he has arranged my trip to a women’s rights conference in Paris. Meaning the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) collaborated with the American University of Paris to arrange my trip? This can be easily proven to be false,” Teltumbde told Al Jazeera.

The letter also mentioned two professors from US universities, as well as French Marxist thinker Etienne Balibar. “The conference organisers wrote a letter clarifying the facts,” he said.

In an open letter in January, Teltumbde said his “imminent arrest” was part of the “vilest post-Independence plot by the state”.

Last week, 600 scholars and faculty members from American and European universities urged the government to end what they called “witch-hunt” against Teltumbde.

‘Urban Maoists’

Prime Minister Modi has said “urban Maoists” backed their rural counterparts, in a veiled reference to left-wing scholars and activists.

“Urban Maoists stay in cities and have luxurious lives, their children are well-educated, but they remote control the lives of adivasi (tribal) children and destroy their lives,” Modi said last November.

The case is linked to a historic event from more than 200 years ago – the Bhima Koregaon battle of January 1, 1818, when Dalits had sided with the East India Company to defeat the upper-caste Peshwa rulers.

The Maoist bogey is a favourite trope of the government when it wants to discredit protests

Feminist writer and Dalit activist Urmila Pawar

A memorial built by the British to commemorate the event is visited by Dalits every year, but this year Hindutva leaders (Hindu supremacists) opposed an event, Elgaar Parishad, held on December 31, 2017, to mark the bicentennial anniversary the next day.

Dalit activists say they came under attack on January 1, 2018, while returning from the Bhima Koregaon memorial.

They filed police complaint against Hindutva leaders. The rival side filed a counter complain saying inflammatory speeches made at the Parishad caused the violence.






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Police action on the latter complaint was swift, whereas it appears to be dragging its feet in the former.

At least nine prominent activists, including Wilson, are already behind bars in connection with the high-profile case, that critics say, is part of Hindu nationalist government’s clampdown on democratic rights.

In June, the Pune Police arrested lawyer Surendra Gadling, forest rights activist Mahesh Raut, English Literature professor Shoma Sen, prison rights activist Rona Wilson, and poet-writer Sudhir Dhawale, under the UAPA.

In August, the police attempted to arrest five more persons – lawyer and civil rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj, journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha, lawyer and writer Arun Ferreira, writer and columnist Vernon Gonsalves, and poet and political worker Varavara Rao. Four activists were arrested, while Navlakha managed to secure protection from a high court.

‘Attack on dissenting voices’

Some of the activists have worked in areas where Maoists are active. Nihal Singh Rathod, a lawyer in the case, noted the irony of Raut being termed a Maoist, while he had persuaded villagers to participate in elections that the Maoists had boycotted.

Teesta Setalvad, a rights activist, said there has been a general attack on dissenting voices under the ruling BJP government. The BJP rules at both the federal level as well as the Maharashtra state where Bhima Koregaon is located.

“The proof [the police] have [offered] appears unsatisfactory,” Setalvad said adding that the “use of the draconian provisions of the UAPA is an attack on personal freedoms”.

Susan Abraham, lawyer for one of the accused and the wife of Vernon Gonsalves, said the police had not followed the norm while seizing electronic devices.

“The entire case hinges on letters retrieved from computers, but the police till date have not provided us a copy of the material,” Abraham told Al Jazeera.

But the Joint Commissioner of Pune Police, Shivaji Bodkhe, defended the police in the case.

He told Al Jazeera it was premature to comment on the veracity of the evidence. “Those questions will be dealt with once the trial commences.”

“The judges will take a call,” Bodkhe said.






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But Desai contends that is the problem with UAPA, in which getting bail is extremely difficult. “If you commit murder you are entitled to bail. Under UAPA even if you are innocent, you lose 4-5 years of your life.”

Three of the eight arrested – Ferreira, Gonsalves, and Dhawale – have been previously arrested under the UAPA law, and acquitted after spending three to six years in prison.

Activists have also voiced their concern at the media trial and the accused being labelled “Urban Maoists” and “anti-nationals”.

This is not the first time, though. Feminist writer and Dalit activist Urmila Pawar said the “Maoist” bogey is a favourite trope of the government when it wants to discredit protests.

“When Dalits hit the streets in Maharashtra after the 2006 Khairlanji incident – where a Dalit family was killed by upper-caste neighbours – the government termed us Maoists,” she said.

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Ottawa announces new funding to combat online child abuse

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Ottawa has announced $22 million in funding to fight online child abuse.

Noting that police-reported incidents of child pornography in Canada increased by 288 per cent between 2010 and 2017, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the announcement Tuesday.

It follows a London meeting last week that focused on the exploitation of children between Goodale and his counterparts from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, collectively known as the Five Eyes intelligence group.

Major internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were also at the meeting and agreed to a set of rules the members of the group proposed to remove child pornography from the internet quicker.

On Tuesday, Goodale warned internet companies they had to be better, faster and more open when in comes to fighting child abuse on line.

In this Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 photo, detectives use the Cellebrite system to extract information from cellphones at the State Police facility in Hamilton Township, N.J. “Operation Safety Net,” the results of which were announced in December, netted 79 people suspected of exploiting children. (Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press/Canadian Press)

“If human harm is done, if a child is terrorized for the rest of their life because of what happened to them on the internet, if there are other damages and costs, then maybe the platform that made that possible should bear the financial consequences,” Goodale said.

The government plan includes $2.1 million to intensify engagement with digital industry to develop new tools online and support effective operating principles, $4.9 million for research, public engagement, awareness and collaboration with non-governmental organizations and $15.25 million to internet child exploitation units in provincial and municipal police forces across the country.

Goodale said the strategy recognizes that technology is “increasingly facilitating the easy borderless access to vast volumes of abhorrent images.”

That, he said, makes investigations increasingly complex,

“This is a race where the course is always getting longer and more complicated and advancing into brand new areas that hadn’t been anticipated five years ago or a year ago or even a week ago,” Goodale said.

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Gas prices expected to dip in Ottawa

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If you can wait an extra day to fill up the gas tank, your bank account might thank you.

Roger McKnight of Enpro is predicting a five cent dip in gas prices Wednesday night at midnight.

This comes after a four cent drop this past Friday, just ahead of the August long weekend.

McKnight said the reason for the drop, both last week and this week, is due to comments made by US President Donald Trump. 

He says after the drop, the price will be, on average, 118.9 cents/litre in the Ottawa region.

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Oka asks Ottawa to freeze Mohawk land deal, send RCMP to Kanesatake

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The town of Oka is asking the federal and provincial governments to slap a moratorium on a proposed land grant to the local Mohawk community in Kanesatake and to establish an RCMP detachment on the First Nations territory to deal with illegal cannabis sales outlets.

The requests were contained in two resolutions adopted Tuesday night by the Oka town council.

The administration of Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon held its first public meeting since the start of the controversy that pitted the town council against the Kanesatake band council over a decision by a local promoter to give local lands to the Mohawk community.

The three resolutions are addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Quebec Premier François Legault’s government and the Kanesatake band council led by Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon.

As each resolution was read into the record, Quevillon stressed that the town of Oka was only looking to live in peaceful cohabitation with the Mohawk community.

The town also called upon Ottawa to establish a consultation process that would take into account the concerns of residents in Oka and  Kanesatake.

Quevillon’s administration also wants access to the plans detailing what lands are at the centre of negotiations between the federal government and the Mohawk community for purchase, suggesting the talks are simply a disguised form of expropriation.

“They’re giving money to (the Mohawks) to buy our land and annex it to their territory,” Quevillon said.

Despite its demands, the Oka council adopted an official statement addressed to the Kanesatake band council saying the town’s population wanted dialogue and peaceful cohabitation, with Quevillon citing the 300 years of close links between the two communities.

During the council meeting’s question period, some residents suggested that the council deal with other groups that say they are speaking for Kanesatake, including Mohawk traditionalists. Mayor Quevillon replied that the town would only deal with the band council and did so out of respect for Grand Chief Simon.

The mayor also argued that the RCMP, a federal police force, was best suited to be deployed in Kanesatake, where it would ensure the law would be respected, particularly on the issue of illegal cannabis shops.

Quevillon contended such a deployment was the only way for both communities to work together toward their mutual economic development.

Meanwhile, the apology Grand Chief Simon has said he is expecting from Quevillon for remarks he made earlier this summer about the Mohawk community in Kanesatake does not appear to be coming any time soon.

Asked by a resident if he would apologize, Quevillon left the answer to those citizens who attended the meeting, the vast majority of whom replied, “no.”

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