Kashmiri protestors shout pro-freedom and anti-India slogans during an Aug. 18 protest against the killings of civilians in Jammu and Kashmir state's ongoing unrest. (Photo by AFP)
Church leaders in India have criticized police filing sedition charges against Amnesty International.
Police in southern Karnataka state filed sedition charges against Amnesty Aug. 15 based on a complaint of the student wing of Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that is heading the federal government.
The complaint by the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP — all India student union), said a seminar organized by Amnesty in Karnataka capital Bangalaru promoted hatred in the country.
The seminar was to discuss excesses by the Indian army and the plight of families in the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state, where India is fighting an armed secessionist movement.
Police say anti-India slogans were chanted during the program but Himani Matta, spokeswoman of Amnesty International India, refuted the allegations.
The ABVP activists were "preventing families of victims of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir from having their stories heard. And preventing civil society organizations from enabling these families to exercise their constitutional right to justice," she said.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told ucanews.com that the incident signals frightening signs for the country.
"Sedition is an easy handle for those who want to trouble others. Such laws need to be used with care and not in a vindictive manner," he said.
However, he said that the action should be taken against those who raised anti-India slogans.
Samuel Jaikumar, executive secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, an ecumenical forum of Protestant and Orthodox Churches, told ucanews.com that sedition charges against the human rights organization only shows the government's attempts to curtail freedom of speech in the country.
"Free speech and difference of opinion is a sign of healthy democracy. Amnesty International was just talking about the violations that need to be addressed in Jammu and Kashmir and not of a separate independent state," he said.
India's northern Jammu and Kashmir state has been under curfew for the past month due to mounting tension over the killing of a secessionist leader by police.
Protests began to spread across the state, spearheaded by groups demanding self-determination for India's only Muslim-majority region leading to 65 people dead and 5,000 others injured.