On February 22, 2020, police filed First Information Reports (FIR) against 14 university students for their participation in a protest against a controversial citizenship law known as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The CAA, which discriminates against Muslim migrants by excluding them from an expedited pathway to citizenship, prompted a months-long protest movement in December 2019. Many of the protests were organized by university students and held on higher education campuses.
The FIRs were issued following a reportedly peaceful anti-CAA protest held in Hyderabad. Students’ accounts and excerpts of the FIRs indicate that students marched from a neighborhood near Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) to the university’s gates, where they held placards and chanted slogans. Available sources do not indicate that the students engaged in violence or illegal activity. No arrests were made on the day of the protest. The FIRs, which were not given to the students until roughly October 10, 2020, accuse the 14 students of violating Sections 144, unlawful assembly, and 188, which contains penalties for those disobeying the countrywide COVID-19 lockdown, of the Indian Penal Code.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about coercive legal actions apparently intended to restrict peaceful student expression — conduct that is protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from actions that restrict or retaliate against the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. Beyond the harm to the immediate victim, criminal investigations intended to restrict or retaliate against such activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.