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Stop witch hunt against scholars, activists under PMLA, demand 500+ concerned citizens in open letter to government

The signatories have flagged, among other things, the summoning of several women scholars and activists repeatedly by the Enforcement Directorate.

OVER 500 concerned citizens, democratic rights’ activists, women’s groups, students and academics have issued a public statement condemning the ‘misuse’ of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) against scholars and activists raising constitutional issues and asking for the government’s accountability.

In an open letter, dated May 23, the signatories flags the summoning of several women scholars and activists repeatedly by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). The letter alleges that the women were made to wait for long hours, often interrogated without any woman officer present, and asked to furnish documents over and over again by the ED.

All of these women, whom we cannot name because of threat of further harassment, who are being questioned have worked tirelessly on substantive issues of national importance that matter to a vast majority of our people— food security, accountable and transparent governance, peace and harmony, informed citizenship, farmers rights, women’s issues and so on.

They have been at the forefront of holding the state accountable to the needs of these sections with great commitment and perseverance, under different regimes, be it the [Indian National] Congress-led [United Progressive Alliance], or the [Aam Aadmi Party] government, or the [Bharatiya Janata Party]-led [National Democratic Alliance],” the letter states.

It adds that the ED has targeted these women in particular to stifle their voices and stop the crucial work they do, such as highlighting the distress of people on account of faulty economic policies, as is the case with the farmers’ agrarian crisis.

The letter asserts that the ‘modus operandi’ to silence any vocal critics of the current government and its policies follows a similar trajectory— the invocation of draconian laws to harass and intimidate them into silence.

As in the case of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), there are increasing instances of the misuse of PMLA, especially against persons who are vocal critics of the government and its policies, and those who raise issues of the poor and oppressed sections of society,” the letter states.

The signatories lament that under the PMLA, the State is relieved of all responsibility for observing the principles of natural justice, fair trial, due process, protocols for women and human rights.

The investigation agencies, the letter states, effectively exercise police powers and should be obligated to follow the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), but the PMLA has an overriding effect in case of any inconsistency with any other law, including the CrPC.

The ED does not have to record [a first investigation report] before starting investigations, or inform those under investigation of the specific charges against them at the time of summons or during the investigation. The power to summon is so wide that any officer of the rank of assistant director or above can call any person, accused or not, for discovery, inspection, recording statements and producing documents, etc.,” the letter reads.

The letter, signed by over 500 citizens, including prominent activists Aruna Roy, Kavita Shrivastava, Subhashini Ali, Shabnam Hashmi and Prashant Bhushan, has demanded the immediately stoppage of what it calls ‘persecution’ and ‘witch hunt’ under the PMLA.

It further demands that proper procedures be established for the summoning and questioning of, and evidence gathering from, women so that they are not harassed and victimised. It implores the ED to “exercise great responsibility and discernment in the persons and cases where they choose to use PMLA, and certainly not use it to intimidate opponents, activists and intellectuals.”