India: Hundreds Of Anti-Corruption Activists Arrested

16 Aug

 

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Hundreds of Mr Hazare’s supporters gathered as he was driven from his home.
India has denied it is stifling democratic protest after police arrested 1,300 people to halt a hunger strike by an anti-corruption activist.

PROMINENT campaigner Anna Hazare was arrested hours before his fast against a proposed new anti-corruption law.

Indian rights activist Anna Hazare gestures to supporters from the back of a police van after he was detained prior to beginning a hunger strike in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011. The prominent activist who had announced plans to go on an indefinite hunger strike to demand tougher anti-corruption laws was detained early Tuesday morning, police said. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

India’s Home Minister P Chidambaram said the detentions were because protesters had not obeyed police conditions for the demonstration.

Mr Hazare has been jailed for a week in Delhi‘s notorious Tihar prison.

He says India’s proposed anti-corruption ombudsman should be able to investigate any official – including the prime minister and judges.

Correspondents say he has presented an increasing challenge for the Indian government on dealing with corruption in Asia’s third largest economy, where a series of recent high-profile scandals have tarnished the government’s image.

Plainclothes police

As news of Mr Hazare’s arrest spread, his supporters came out on the streets of many Indian cities in protest. Those detained were arrested at different places in Delhi, with most of them being taken to a stadium in the city. 

“Nobody denies that Mr Hazare’s movement against corruption has touched a chord among many Indians, who are fed up with corruption and the political class. Nobody denies that corruption is India’s biggest threat to growth and all-round prosperity and development. At the same time, many believe that framing the corruption debate only in the terms of the state versus Mr Hazare-led ‘civil society’ threatens to trivialise the war on corruption and augurs ill for India.”

Mr Hazare, 74, had pledged to go on hunger strike in the capital, Delhi, on Tuesday despite police denying him permission to fast for more than three days.

Plainclothes police officers picked him up from a house in Delhi and drove him away in an unmarked car, fellow activist Akhil Gogoi told the AFP news agency. Police later said he had been held for allegedly breaching the peace.

Mr Hazare is thought to be held in a government facility. His supporters plan to appeal to the Supreme Court against his detention.

India’s Home Secretary RK Singh said Mr Hazare had been detained because he said he “intended to defy prohibitory orders” and fast at a park in Delhi.

The police laid down six conditions for the fast to take place, which included the following: the fast should be limited to three days; no more than 400 to 500 people are allowed to gather, and there is parking for a certain number of vehicles.

“Nowhere in the world are protests allowed without conditions,” said Mr Chidambaram.

“We are not prohibiting a peaceful democratic protest – we are trying to find a reasonable set of conditions under which protests can take place.”

‘Corruption culture’

Mr Hazare has called the proposed anti-corruption legislation a “cruel joke” and has described the fight against corruption as the “second war of independence”. He said the movement would not stop with his arrest.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, a prominent supporter of Mr Hazare, said his detention proved that the government was “dictatorial and not heeding to the democratic rights of the people”.

Several other prominent supporters of Mr Hazare were also detained.

On Monday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said hunger strikes by campaigners would not help to tackle corruption.

Mr Hazare says the proposed anti-corruption ombudsman should be able to investigate any official – including the prime minister and judges.

India has recently been hit by a string of high-profile corruption scandals, including a multi-billion dollar alleged telecoms scam, alleged financial malpractices in connection with the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games and allegations that houses for war widows were diverted to civil servants.

Critics of the government say the scandals point to a pervasive culture of corruption in Mr Singh’s administration.

A recent survey said corruption in India cost billions of dollars and threatened to derail growth.

image of Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas India correspondent

Read more from Soutik

NEWS UPDATE:

Sounds a lot like home ? (Ireland).

A supporter of Indian rights activist Anna Hazare shouts slogans after Hazare was detained prior to beginning a hunger strike in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011. The prominent activist who had announced an indefinite hunger strike to demand tougher anti-corruption laws was detained early Tuesday morning, police said. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

NEW DELHI (AP) — An anti-corruption activist arrested Tuesday for planning a public hunger strike began his fast behind bars as his supporters held protests across the country, with thousands detained by police.

Anna Hazare’s demand for tougher anti-corruption laws has tested the beleaguered government and galvanized Indians fed up with seemingly endless scandals exposing bribery and favoritism and paralyzing efforts to address poverty and speed development.

Hazare, a 73-year-old social activist clad in the simple white cotton garb of India’s liberation leaders, has become an anti-corruption icon by channeling the tactics of freedom fighter Mohandas K. Gandhi.

In April, he used a four-day fast to force the government to draft legislation to create an anti-corruption watchdog. He had planned to begin another public fast Tuesday to press for a stronger bill.

Police barred his latest protest after organizers refused to limit the number of fasting days and participants, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said. “Protests are perfectly permissible and welcome, but it must be under reasonable conditions,” he said.

Hazare vowed to carry on regardless, but was arrested before leaving for the park.

He waved cheerfully at news cameras outside his home as he was driven away to a police mess hall, where he began his fast. Later, after refusing to post bail, Hazare was taken to New Delhi’s Tihar jail for seven days of detention, joining business leaders and three lawmakers who are facing corruption charges there.

His supporters released a video appeal Hazare had recorded anticipating his arrest.

“My dear countrymen, the second freedom struggle has begun, and now I have also been arrested. But will this movement be stopped by my arrest? No, not at all. Don’t let it happen,” he said.

Thousands rallied across the country, carrying placards calling for a “Revolution Against Corruption,” taunting authorities to “Please Arrest Me” and decrying Hazare’s arrest as an antidemocratic affront to civil rights. Some donned white caps resembling Hazare’s with the words “I am Anna Hazare” scrawled in Hindi and English.

Police rounded up at least 1,200 protesters in New Delhi and more than 3,000 in Mumbai, but many were later released.

The home minister said the government was only seeking to maintain order in arresting Hazare.

“We are not prohibiting a peaceful democratic protest,” Chidambaram said, noting that Hazare’s camp had rejected police conditions for holding a safe rally. “Nowhere in the world is a protest allowed without any conditions.”

The governing Congress party went further in its defense, accusing Hazare of meddling in politics and hijacking public policy with his fast when he should instead express his views to elected officials.

“He is not fighting against corruption but doing politics,” party secretary-general Digvijay Singh said, noting the government’s right to take steps to avoid a situation that threatens law and order.

The hunger strikes have catapulted the issue of India’s culture of graft to the top of TV news and inspired others across the nation to fast in solidarity, as the gulf between India’s rich and poor, who make up a vast majority of its 1.2 billion people, has widened despite two decades of economic growth, exacerbating social tensions.

The government is battling corruption allegations stemming from the murky sale of cellphone licenses and the hosting of last year’s Commonwealth Games, which together lost the country as much as $40 billion, according to government auditors. The main opposition is mired in a multibillion-dollar bribery scandal involving the granting of mining contracts in southern India.

The scandals have embarrassed the government and paralyzed Parliament, with lawmakers trading insults and accusations instead of addressing widespread malnutrition and a desperate need for land reform. On Tuesday, Parliament adjourned amid screaming between government and opposition lawmakers over Hazare’s arrest.

The main opposition party slammed Hazare’s arrest as evidence that the government is “imbalanced” on the issue of corruption, and demanded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself address the controversy.

“The government is hell-bent on crushing civil rights of the citizens,” said Sushma Swaraj, leader of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Singh addressed the issue in his annual independence day speech Monday, saying his government was committed to taking the “strictest possible” action against corrupt officials but that only Parliament can decide anti-corruption legislation.

He said those who disagree with the proposed legislation should debate it and “not resort to hunger strikes and fasts unto death.”

___

Associated Press writer Muneeza Naqvi contributed to this report.

Arrest complicates corruption debate

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