Activist Arrests in India Are Part of a Dangerous Global Trend to Stifle Dissent | Alternet
On Tuesday morning, the police from the Indian city of Pune (in the state of Maharashtra) raided the homes of lawyers and social activists across India and arrested five of them. Many of them are not household names around the world, since they are people who work silently on behalf of the poor and oppressed in a country where half the population does not eat sufficiently. Their names are Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira and Varavara Rao. What unites these people is their commitment to the working class and peasantry, to those who are treated as marginal to India’s state. They are also united by their opposition, which they share with millions of Indians, to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The “raw numbers of this terror” are best counted from Turkey. Since the failed coup of July 15, 2016, the government has arrested, detained or dismissed about 160,000 government officials, dismissing 12,000 Kurdish teachers, destroying the livelihood of thousands of people. The editor of Cumhuriyet, Can Dündar, called this the “biggest witch-hunt in Turkey’s history.” In the name of the war on terror and in the name of sedition, the government has arrested and intimidated its political opponents. The normality of this is astounding—leaders of the opposition HDP party remain in prison on the flimsiest of charges, with little international condemnation. They suffer a fate comparable to Brazil’s Lula, also incarcerated with no evidence.
Governments do not typically like dissent. In Bangladesh, the photographer Shahidul Alam remains in detention for his views on the massive protests in Dhaka for traffic reform and against government corruption. Condemnation of the arrest has come from all quarters, including a British Member of Parliament—Tulip Siddiq—who is the niece of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The avalanche of criticism has not moved the government. Alam is accused of inciting violence, a charge that is equal parts of ridiculous and absurd.
Incitement to violence is a common charge. It is what has taken the Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour to an Israeli prison. Tatour’s poem, “Resist, my people, resist them” (Qawim ya sha’abi, qawimhum), was the reason given by the Israeli government to lock her up. The Egyptian government has taken in the poet Galal El-Behairy for the lyrics he wrote for the song “Balaha”—the name a reference to a character in a 1980s film who sees the world in a topsy-turvy manner, a name now used colloquially in Egypt for President Sisi. The Ugandan government has arrested the radio show host Samuel Kyambadde, who merely allowed his talk show to become a forum for a conversation that included items labeled by the government as seditious—such as the arrest of journalists and the arrest of the opposition MP Robert Kyagulanyi (also known as Bobi Wine).
All of them—photographers, poets, radio show hosts—are treated as voices of sedition, dangerous people who can be locked up under regulations that would make any fair-minded person wince. But there is not even any public debate in most of our societies about such measures, no genuine discussion about the slide into the worst kind of authoritarianism, little public outcry.