‘People have right to demonstrate peacefully, let them’: UN chief’s spokesman on farmers’ protest

Authorities should allow people to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully, UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ spokesman has said regarding the farmers’ protest in India.

The remarks came close on the heels of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying his government had conveyed its concerns about the farmers’ protest to India, and Indian-origin British MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi sending a letter on behalf of a group of lawmakers to foreign secretary Dominic Raab on the issue.

India dismissed Trudeau’s remarks as interference in the country’s internal affairs and summoned the Canadian envoy on Friday and told him the comments have the potential to damage bilateral ties. There was no immediate response from Indian officials to the UN spokesman’s comments or the British MP’s letter.

When Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, was asked about the farmers’ protest at a daily news briefing on Friday, he replied, “As to the question of India, what I would say to you is what I’ve said to others when raising these issues is that people have a right to demonstrate peacefully, and authorities need to let them do so.”

Also read: Maun vrat, food from langar – Key takeaways from farmers’ protest

The reporter who asked the question also contended the farmers involved in the protest were being met with “repressive measures” and this had a bearing on India’s democracy. Dujarric responded by saying, “We want to see people have a voice in their lives.”

Thousands of farmers have been protesting for more than a week at the borders of Delhi against a set of laws to liberalise farm trade and open up agricultural markets. The government is trying to end the protest through talks with the farmers’ leaders.

Trudeau was the first world leader to comment on the farmers’ protest, telling a Facebook video interaction on Tuesday that the situation in India was “concerning”. He added, “Let me remind you, Canada will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest. We believe in the importance of dialogue and that’s why we’ve reached out through multiple means directly to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns.”

On Friday, the external affairs ministry summoned Canada’s envoy Nadir Patel and told him the remarks by Trudeau and Canadian lawmakers had the potential to “seriously” damage bilateral ties. The ministry also said the comments by Trudeau, some cabinet ministers and MPs amounted to an “unacceptable interference in our internal affairs”.

Also read: Farm leaders hopeful govt will repeal laws but will continue with Bharat Bandh

In a separate development, British MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi sent a letter on behalf of 35 MPs to foreign secretary Dominic Raab seeking “an urgent meeting… to discuss the deteriorating situation in Punjab and its relationship with the Centre”. Dhesi also asked Raab to make a representation to his Indian counterpart about “the impact on British Sikhs and Punjabis with longstanding links to land and farming in India”.

Dhesi wrote in the letter that several British MPs had written to both Raab and the Indian high commission in London about “the impact of three new Indian laws on exploiting farmers and those dependent on farming in India”.

“This is an issue of particular concern to Sikhs in the UK and those linked to Punjab, although it heavily impacts other Indian states,” Dhesi said.

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