Indian police have charged a 22-year-old climate activist with sedition over accusations she edited and circulated a document tweeted by climate activist Greta Thunberg relating to India’s ongoing farmer protests.
Swedish climate activist Thunberg tweeted her backing this month for the farmers, who have been demonstrating since December against agricultural reforms they say will harm their livelihood but benefit large corporations. She shared a document which she said was a toolkit to create and spread awareness about the farmers’ complaints.
The toolkit caught the attention of the Delhi police who began a criminal investigation, claiming the document was evidence of a conspiracy “to wage economic, social, cultural and regional war against India”.
On Saturday, police conducted a raid on the Bangalore home of Disha Ravi, 22, an environmentalist who co-founded the Bangalore branch of Fridays for Future, a global movement for social justice begun by Thunberg.
Ravi was flown to Delhi and remanded in the custody of Delhi police, over allegations she was a “key conspirator” in the toolkit tweeted by Thunberg. Delhi police said she had started a WhatsApp group and “collaborated to make the Toolkit Doc … to spread disaffection with the Indian state” and had then directly shared it with Thunberg.
The 22-year-old, who works in a vegan restaurant, has now been charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy.
At a court on Sunday Ravi broke down in tears and said she had only edited two lines of the toolkit file. Police alleged in their statement they had technical evidence that Ravi’s role in editing the toolkit was “many times more than the 2 lines editing that she claims”. The court remanded Ravi to five days in police custody after police requested time to “unearth her connections with the Sikhs for Justice”.
Indian environmental groups condemned Ravi’s arrest, describing it as a “witch hunt” on “fabricated charges” and 10 groups demanded her release.
“Delhi police’s actions are all the more sinister because Disha was taken to Delhi with no disclosure about her whereabouts, not even to her parents, an action that can be termed extrajudicial abduction,” read a statement by the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India.
Delhi chief minister Arwind Kejriwal, who has backed the farmers’ protests, called Ravi’s arrest “an unprecedented attack on Democracy. Supporting our farmers is not a crime.”
Further raids are being carried out by police as they are looking for two more suspects. Earlier this month, police said the campaign material was aimed at waging a cultural war against the government and creating divisions among various groups in Indian society.
On 5 February crowds in Delhi burned effigies of Thunberg after she tweeted support for India’s protesting farmers. Photos of Thunberg and pop singer Rihanna were set alight and banners were held aloft warning that “international interference” in Indian affairs would not be tolerated.
Thunberg became embroiled in allegations of an international criminal conspiracy against India after she tweeted a “toolkit” for people who wanted to show support for the farmers. The document included campaigning tips such as suggested hashtags and advice on how to sign petitions.
Though not named in the police case that was filed then, or in Sunday’s arrest, Thunberg’s tweet was said to have brought the Delhi police’s attention to the existence of the toolkit. Leaders in the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) said the toolkit was “evidence of international plans for attacks against India”.
The farmer protests have been mainly peaceful. However on 26 January, thousands of farmers overwhelmed police and stormed into the historic Red Fort complex in Delhi after tearing down barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks.
India’s foreign ministry hit out this month at “sensationalist social media hashtags and comments” by celebrities following posts from Thunberg and Rihanna.