India’s top investigative agencies have carried out nationwide raids on a prominent Muslim organization and arrested more than 100 members of the group, accusing them of having terrorist links.
Simultaneous raids on Popular Front of India (PFI) offices and members’ homes were controlled by the federally controlled National Bureau of Investigation (NIA) and the Directorate for Enforcement (ED) conducted in nearly a dozen states on Thursday morning.
Most arrests were made in the southern states. In Kerala, where the PFI has significant influence in Muslim-majority areas, 22 people have been arrested.
Arrests were also made in Maharashtra and Karnataka (20 people each), Andhra Pradesh (5), Assam (9), Delhi (3), Madhya Pradesh (4), Puducherry (3), Tamil Nadu (10). ), Uttar Pradesh (8) ) and Rajasthan (2), as reported by the Indian media.
India’s NDTV network says at least four PFI members have been charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a strict anti-terrorism law under which a person can serve years in prison without trial because the law has strict bail provisions.
PFI was established in 2007 following the merger of three Muslim groups – National Democratic Front in Kerala, Karnataka Dignity Forum in Karnataka and Manitha Neethi Pasarai in Tamil Nadu.
In 2009, the organization formed its political wing, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), to contest elections.
PFI says it works for the rights of Muslims and other marginalized communities in India. But right-wing Hindu groups, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), accuse the group of violent attacks on its members.
‘Totalitarian regimes use agencies as puppets’
Federal Minister Giriraj Singh accused the PFI of “working against India” and his counterpart Ramdas Athawale said the group was “linked to terrorist organisations”.
“We have no problem running an organization or bringing the Muslim community together. But taking the name of this country and spreading terrorism, action is needed. I applaud the NIA and ED air strikes,” Athawale told reporters.
“PFI should change themselves if they want to live in India… They should stand with India.”
But the PFI called the NIA and ED raid a “witch hunt” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
“The Popular Front will never surrender to any fearful actions of a totalitarian regime using central authorities as its puppets and will stand firm in its will to restore the democratic system.” and the constitutional spirit of our beloved country,” it said in the statement shared with Al Jazeera.
The attacks have sparked protests in several areas of Kerala, where the PFI has called for a strike on Friday.
Human rights activists have accused the government of using investigative agencies to harass and intimidate groups that criticize its policies. Islamic organizations are particularly attacked and often accused of having terrorist links, they said.
“There are Hindu supremacist organizations and their leaders regularly issue calls for violence against Muslims. How come their organizations don’t face any scrutiny, let alone raids and all? Those people are allowed to be free, they are not punished,” activist Kavita Krishnan told Al Jazeera.
Krishnan said the raids – which she describes as “depicting the belligerence of Islam” – are reminiscent of attacks against another Muslim group, the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). ) in 2000.
“We know what happened as a result of those raids (on SIMI). So a lot of innocent people are not involved in any of the recorded crimes and are involved in a lot of cases. They were acquitted after that several times and were found innocent. She said.
“The danger is that PFI will also lead to a similar situation.”
SIMI, founded in 1976, was banned shortly after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. Many people believed to be linked to the group have been arrested on terrorism charges. Most of them were released after many years in prison and the court did not find any evidence against them.
In one incident in 2001, 127 Muslim men were arrested during a conference in the state of Gujarat and charged with terrorist links. Last year, a local court pardon all men, declaring them innocent. Five of them died during testing.
“I feel that if there is a particular charge against a particular charge against a particular person, go for it. But treating entire organizations and ideologies as criminals is something the Supreme Court has repeatedly said should not be done. Even belonging to an organization can’t be a criminal,” Krisnan said.