Amnesty calls denial of bail to Muslim activist ‘big blow’

New Delhi: Rights group Amnesty International has described India’s repeated denial of bail to jailed Muslim activist Umar Khalid as a “big blow” to those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the Hindu-majority country.

Khalid, 34, along with more than a dozen other Muslims, is accused by the Indian authorities of being part of a “larger conspiracy” that led to religious riots in New Delhi in February 2020 which left 53 people dead, most of them Muslims, and dozens of houses and mosques torched.

The riots – the worst the Indian capital had seen in decades – followed peaceful sit-ins across the country, mainly organised by Muslim women, against the passage of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing government in late 2019.

Critics said the CAA, which fast-tracked Indian citizenship for non-Muslim refugees from India’s neighbouring nations, violated India’s secular constitution.

The Muslim resistance to the law triggered hate speeches against the community by ministers and politicians belonging to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other Hindu groups, which led to attacks on Muslims living in the eastern parts of New Delhi.

The Delhi police, who are controlled by the federal government, accused Khalid of being a “key conspirator” and one of the “masterminds” of the riots. He was arrested on September 13, 2020 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, a draconian anti-terror law characterised by stringent bail provisions, among other charges.

The activist, who was also jailed briefly for “sedition” in 2016 when he was a student at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, has denied any involvement in the Delhi violence.