Indian police have arrested a 22-year-old climate activist for sharing a “toolkit” for farmers protesting controversial new agriculture laws.
Police over the weekend took Disha Ravi, founder of India’s branch of Fridays for Future, a climate movement started by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, from her home in Bangalore to the capital, New Delhi.
Officers said the arrest was part of an investigation into how protesters for farmers’ rights breached the historic Red Fort in Delhi late last month.
The police believe the “toolkit,” a document with resources on how to support protesting farmers, was full of misinformation.
"The main aim of the 'toolkit' was to create misinformation and disaffection against the lawfully enacted government," Delhi police official Prem Nath told reporters.
Disha Ravi, arrested by CyPAD Delhi Police, is an Editor of the Toolkit Google Doc & key conspirator in document's formulation & dissemination. She started WhatsApp Group & collaborated to make the Toolkit doc. She worked closely with them to draft the Doc. @PMOIndia @HMOIndia https://t.co/e8QGkyDIVv— #DilKiPolice Delhi Police (@DelhiPolice) February 14, 2021
But the police did not specify the charges against Ravi but said she was a “key conspirator in the document’s formulation and dissemination,” according to Reuters. Activists worry she is being held under a colonial-era sedition law, which has been used against journalists.
According to NDTV news, Ravi told the court that she "did not make the toolkit. We wanted to support the farmers. I edited two lines on 3 February."
A Delhi court on Sunday ordered Ravi to be held in police custody for five days, according to Reuters.
Ravi’s arrest was met with protests and condemnation from politicians and activists on Monday and comes as the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces allegations it is suppressing dissent, a charge the government denies.
Legal experts have questioned why the 22-year-old was taken to a magistrate so far from her home — about 2,100 kilometers — a move they argue is illegal under Indian law.
“Such illegal actions by Delhi Police would amount to a kidnapping under the pretense of law,” the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms wrote in a statement.
Our Statement on Delhi Police's illegal&malafide arrest of environmental activist #DishaRavi for playing a small role in preparing a digital campaign toolkit for the farmer's protest. The Magistrate in mechanically remanding her to police custody also abdicated his responsibility pic.twitter.com/RMZSISlqLV— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) February 15, 2021
Thunberg tweeted her support for the farmers’ protests in February. Her comments were condemned by Indian politicians who claimed the protests were an internal affair. The toolkit prompted investigations by Delhi police.
Since late last year, farmers in India have been protesting three new proposed laws, which would end government-regulated pricing of crops. Talks between the government and the protesters have broken down, and demonstrations continue, despite roadblocks and a heavy security presence around the capital.
The government says the laws at issue will reform Indian agriculture, draw in private investment and improve incomes, but farmers fear they will eventually eliminate state support for crops and dent their livelihoods.