India's arrest of activist tied to Greta Thunberg's movement sparks outrage

By Chandini Monnappa and Rupam Jain

BENGALURU (Reuters) – Indian opposition politicians and activists condemned on Monday the arrest of a 22-year-old climate activist accused of helping to edit and distribute a document by Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg that promoted farmer protests.

Police took Disha Ravi to the capital from her home in the southern city of Bengaluru to question her over the accusation that she disseminated the document during the months-long protest on the outskirts of Delhi.

A Delhi police source said Ravi had been arrested over a sedition case against those accused of authoring a “toolkit” on ways to help the farmers. If proved, the charge carries a penalty of life imprisonment.

On Sunday a court ordered Ravi held in police custody for five days, sparking outrage on social media and among farm unions.

“Disha Ravi’s arrest is the latest escalation in India’s crackdown on free expression and political dissent, as it seeks to stifle the farmers’ mass protests,” said Shashi Tharoor, an MP from the main opposition Congress party.

Ravi could not be reached in custody and her family was not immediately available for comment.

Bhavreen Kandhari, a member of Thunberg’s movement in India, said it was waiting for complete clarity from the government and police before making any statement.

“We are waiting for more information regarding the basis of the criminal case,” said Kandhari, a 45-year-old environment activist and a founding member of the movement’s India chapter.

A senior official in the home ministry, which is overseeing the investigation, said the Delhi police had “found concrete evidence” against Ravi before her arrest.

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“It is vital to know whether she was being used by organisations who fund militancy, social unrest and separatist activities,” the official said, adding that police were also questioning others in the movement.

Police have been cracking down on the farmer protests, since thousands of protesters stormed the iconic Red Fort last month on Republic Day.

Activists have planned protests across India against Ravi’s detention and the hashtag #IndiabeingSilenced was trending on Twitter.

Ravi is a leader of the Indian arm of Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement. The Swedish teenager had shared a “toolkit” for those who wanted to help the farmers, saying it had been created by those at the demonstrations.

The protests against farm reforms have drawn international support, with pop star Rihanna and Meena Harris, a niece of U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris and activist, drawing attention to the months-long campaign.

India, which says its reforms are meant to modernise antiquated produce markets, blames vested interests and outsiders for misleading the farmers.

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