American Bar Association calls for Safoora Zargar’s immediate release

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American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights has said that the pre-trial detention of Safoora Zargar, a student activist, does not appear to meet the standards of international law, reported Livelaw.

“International law, including treaties to which India is a State party, only permit pre-trial detention under narrow circumstances which do not appear to have been met in Ms. Zargar’s case,” the Center commented on the custody of Ms. Zargar since 10 April. “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that ‘it should not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.’”

Last week, Additional Sessions Court, Patiala House at New Delhi had denied bail to the 27-year old Ph.D student of Jamia Milia University in a case registered under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 1967 (UAPA), linking her to conspiracy behind the Delhi pogrom in February.

In this regard, the Centre of Human Rights, ABA, noted that Ms. Zargar had been in the forefront of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 since December 2019, and was arrested first on 10 April for allegedly blocking a roadway as part of protests, the report added. Though a Magistrate granted bail her in that case citing “her pregnancy, health condition, and the directives issued by the Indian Supreme Court on decongestion of prisons during COVID-19.” She was soon re-arrested in the UAPA case, alleging conspiracy behind Delhi riots.

The Centre further said: “Given the lack of evidence in the FIR linking Ms. Zargar to acts of violence, it is unclear why alternatives to pre-trial detention were not considered adequate by the court in this case.”

The Center raised particular concerns about her vulnerable state on account of pregnancy, and risk to exposure to COVID-19 in the overcrowded prison.

“Regardless of whether Ms. Zargar’s detention was properly justified under normal circumstances, it is likely unreasonable in light of her pregnancy and the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (also known as the Bangkok Rules)  concludes that non-custodial means should be preferred for pregnant women during the pre-trial phase wherever that is possible or appropriate”.

The Center also noted that a slanderous online campaign was launched against her, on which the Delhi Commission for Women took suo moto action.

“Given the lack of clear evidence of criminal conduct, her pregnant condition, and the failure of prosecutors to specifically explain how Ms. Zargar poses a threat if granted bail, Ms. Zargar should be given the opportunity to furnish a bail bond and be in her home with her family until the appropriate time for her legal hearings. The Center urges the Court to uphold India’s moral and legal obligations given the pandemic and order the immediate release of Mrs. Zargar,” the center added.

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