On January 30, 2020, police reportedly arrested Kafeel Khan, a doctor and prominent critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, for a speech he gave during a protest at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) over a recently enacted citizenship law.
Since December 2019, students at universities across the country have held protests over what is now referred to as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The legislation expedites citizenship for several religious minorities but does not include Muslims. Critics of the CAA have argued that it is discriminatory and violates the secular nature of India’s constitution. Students protesting the CAA have been met with intense police force, arrests, and other disciplinary measures.
On December 12, Khan reportedly delivered a speech to students at a protest against the CAA at AMU. On January 30, 2020, when Khan arrived at Mumbai Airport to attend an anti-CAA protest in Mumbai, police arrested him for “inflammatory” remarks. Police reportedly brought Khan to the Sahar Police Station. The following day, they transferred him to the Mathura Jail. On February 10, a court reportedly granted bail to Khan; however, he was not released from custody.
On February 14, police charged Khan under the National Security Act (NSA) for “sowing seeds of discord and disharmony towards other religious communities,” in his speech at the AMU protest. Under the NSA, authorities can detain an individual for up to one year without trial if they are deemed a national security threat.
On September 1, the Allahabad High Court ordered Khan’s release, ruling that his detention is illegal and that his speech at AMU did not incite hate or violence. Khan was released later that night.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and prosecution of a scholar in apparent retaliation for his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. State authorities are obligated to refrain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent expression and association. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.