NEW DELHI (AP) — An Indian court on Friday ordered a 22-year-old climate activist to spend three days in jail under court custody in a case that critics say highlights a growing crackdown on dissent under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Police from the capital, New Delhi, arrested Disha Ravi on Feb. 13 at her home in the southern city of Bengaluru for circulating a document on social media supporting ongoing protests by farmers that have rattled the government.
Officials have said that the document spread misinformation about the protests and “tarnished the image of India.” They have also said that Ravi shared the document with Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who tweeted it earlier this month.
Ravi has been in police custody for the last five days for questioning.
Earlier this week, police said the document shared on social media indicated that there was a “conspiracy” behind violence on Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, when the until then largely peaceful protests erupted into clashes with police. One protester was killed and hundreds of police and demonstrators were injured.
“The call was to wage economic, social, cultural and regional war against India,” Delhi police have said.
Tens of thousands of farmers have camped outside New Delhi for months in protest against new agricultural laws that they say will devastate their livelihood. The protests have posed a major challenge to Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, which says the laws are needed to modernize Indian farming.
Critics have accused the government of using the demonstrations — and the violence on Republic Day — to escalate a clampdown on free speech.
Ravi’s arrest, which comes after the government ordered Twitter to block certain accounts and charged journalists with sedition earlier this month, has drawn condemnation.
Within India, opposition parties called her arrest harassment, intimidation and an attack on democracy. Overseas, the niece of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Meena Harris, criticized the government on Twitter for silencing activists. Protests in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi were held this week, with demonstrators pressing for her immediate release.
Ravi is part of the Indian wing of Fridays for Future, a global climate change movement founded by Thunberg.
“As a young person growing up in a warming world, Disha is concerned about her future and the future of vulnerable communities in the face of the climate crisis. This is what drives her activism,” Fridays for Future India told The Associated Press in an email.
In an interview with The Guardian last year, Ravi said India was already in the middle of a climate crisis.
“We are not just fighting for our future; we are fighting for our present. We, the people from the most affected, are going to change the conversation in climate negotiations and lead a just recovery plan that benefits people and not the pockets of our government,” she was quoted as saying.
Tara Krishnaswamy, a Bengaluru-based activist who has crossed paths with Ravi, said Ravi’s arrest has “shaken” the activist community.
Another activist in Bengaluru, Mukund Gowda, first met Ravi in 2019 at a citizen collective event in the city.
“We lack young activists and supporters in the city, so to see Disha bring Fridays for Future to Bengaluru and show how passionate she was in the work was great,” he said. “To see the government crack down like this is scary."
Police have also issued arrest warrants for two other activists, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk, saying they, alongside Ravi, created the document and shared it with others. Courts in Maharashtra state granted bail to Jacob for three weeks and to Muluk for 10 days earlier this week.
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