In March 2012, Rona Jacob Wilson, an activist who campaigns for the release of political prisoners, addressed a seminar in Hyderabad, on counter-terrorism laws and their misuse by the nation’s security apparatus. Rona traced the evolution of India’s anti-terrorism laws, from the 1990s to their current form—the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2012. Through the UAPA, Rona said, “sanction is given to the National Counter-Terrorism Centre as well as the Intelligence Bureau to arrest, not only to investigate but also to execute ... anyone who they deem fit as committing offences that are not in the interest of the Indian state.” Rona had addressed the seminar as a representative of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, or CRPP. He is one of the CRPP’s founding members and its secretary for public relations. His speech was not long—twenty minutes, give or take a few. But events that transpired in his life six years later would make it appear prescient.
On 6 June 2018, Rona was arrested from his home, a rented one-room set, in south Delhi’s Munirka village in a joint operation by the Pune Police and Delhi Police. Four other activists were arrested that day, in different parts of the country—Sudhir Dhawale, a Dalit-rights activist; Surendra Gadling, a lawyer; Mahesh Raut, an activist who works on displacement issues; and Shoma Sen, a university professor. All five were accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and charged under various sections of the UAPA.
The police described the five as the “top brass of urban Maoists” and blamed them for the caste-based violence that occurred in Bhima Koregaon, in Maharashtra, on 1 January 2018. They were also accused of helping organise the Elgar Parishad the day before the violence erupted. The Elgar Parishad is an event organised to celebrate the victory of the Mahar regiment of the British army against the upper-caste Maratha soldiers in the Battle of Koregaon in 1818. The Pune police further claimed that the arrested activists used the Elgar Parishad to incite riots the following day and Maoist operatives had funded the event. The police singled Rona out, for conspiring to assassinate the prime minister Narendra Modi in a “Rajiv Gandhi-type incident.” This was based on a letter that the police claimed they found among Rona’s possessions. Incidentally, the Pune police had raided Rona’s house a few months before his arrest on 17 April 2018, and seized his laptop, phone and other written material and had possession of all his passwords. Rona and the other activists are currently lodged in Pune’s Yerawada central prison with their bail applications pending and no trial in sight.