(NEW YORK)— PEN America today strongly condemned the decision by Indian authorities to advance a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against writer and public intellectual Arundhati Roy for comments made in 2010 on Kashmir. PEN America demanded that all charges be dropped immediately and that UAPA be amended to conform to international standards.

“We condemn the escalatory tactics used against Arundhati Roy. This case demonstrates all too clearly how protracted legal harassment, now coupled with the threat of charges under the repressive UAPA law, can be used to inflict great professional and personal suffering for the simple act of free expression,” said Karin Karlekar, Director of Writers at Risk at PEN America.

Karlekar said: “This case is the latest in a series of similar actions taken against writers, poets, journalists, academics, and activists by Indian authorities under the draconian UAPA law for their peaceful expression, with some individuals spending years in jail. Given her significant international stature, the case against Roy highlights our deep concern for free speech in India, especially as Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his third term leading the world’s largest democracy. The mis-application of these exceedingly broad laws means that those with dissenting views take great risks to write or  speak out against the government. We strongly urge the Modi government to amend UAPA to align with international standards.”

On June 14, the lieutenant governor of Delhi granted permission for judicial authorities to pursue prosecution for Roy’s 2010 speech under the UAPA law, which allows for the lengthy detention of individuals without charge and contains a high threshold for bail.

During the 2010 speech, Roy criticized the Indian government’s administration over Kashmir. She said:  “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact. Even the Indian government has accepted this.”

Roy had first been threatened with charges under the Indian Penal Code for provocative speech and promoting enmity alongside several other co-defendants who spoke at the same conference; of these, Kashmiri academic and analyst Sheikh Showkat Hussain could also be subject to the new charges as well.

Karlekar shared her insight about the Indian government’s possible motive in an opinion piece for MSNBC, published in October 2023 shortly after Indian officials cleared the case against Roy and Hussein to proceed under provisions of the penal code.

She wrote: “Autocrats invariably target not only human rights defenders and journalists but also writers and artists. They instinctively recognize the power of words and, by extension, free and creative expression to spark imagination, kindle hope, and allow people to imagine different and better worlds built on equality, freedom, and human rights. In the absence of free expression, other freedoms are quick to die, paving the way for autocrats to write their own rules.”

Although India was no longer among the top ten countries jailing writers according to PEN America’s 2023 Freedom to Write Index, the report cautioned that “the overall environment for free expression remained challenging, as the government continued to impose internet shutdowns, censorship, website blockages, and persistent harassment of journalists and writers, including punitive administrative measures tied to denial of overseas citizenship (OCI) cards and visas for writers of Indian origin based outside of the country.”

Other writers in India have faced charges under UAPA in recent years, with some spending months or years in pre-trial detention, including six writers involved in the 2018 Bhima-Koregaon case; the Kashmiri journalist Fahad Shah, who was jailed for most of 2023, facing trumped-up charges in multiple jurisdictions; and Prabir Purkayastha, the founder and editor-in-chief of NewsClick, who was detained under UAPA and criminal conspiracy charges from October 2023 to May 2024, and is temporarily free on bail prior to further hearings in his case.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (201) 247-5057