Friday, February 19, 2016

Chhattisgarh female human rights lawyers "forced" to leave their home, office: Police harassment alleged

Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group activists
By Our Representative
Two female human rights lawyers in Chhattisgarh belonging to the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG), who recently took up the cause of journalist Malini Subramaniam, a scroll.in contributor, are under threat, and are under pressure to leave their residence following "harassment and intimidation" by the police.
Bringing this to light, top human rights group Amnesty International has quoted Isha Khandelwal and Shalini Gera as saying that “they are being evicted from their home and office in Jagdalpur following police pressure on their landlord.” Amnesty added, “They have faced numerous instances of harassment which appear to be intended to prevent them from carrying on their work.”
Since 2013, the lawyers had been worked on several cases related to human rights violations allegedly committed by the police and other security forces in the state. Apart from Subramaniam, among their clients is Santosh Yadav, a freelance journalist arrested on charges of rioting, murder and membership of a banned armed group, which Amnesty has described as “false.”
In recent months, the lawyers have assisted several Adivasi women to file formal complaints in cases of rape and sexual assault allegedly committed by security forces. JagLAG provides free legal assistance to prisoners in five districts in Chhattisgarh, many of whom are members of Adivasi communities accused of being part of Maoist armed groups.
“The lawyers have carried out research, which shows that Adivasi people in the state are frequently arrested by the police on little evidence, and spend long periods in pre-trial detention in overcrowded jails before being acquitted by courts”, said Amnesty.
The flashpoint against the two came after they took up the case of Subramaniam, covering various issues related to police atrocity, sex trafficking, curbs of press freedom, etc. in Chhattisgarh. An "anti-Naxal" group is reported to be issuing issued threats and intimidations to Subramaniam's family, her domestic help as well as her landlord, since January this year.
“The Chhattisgarh government must recognize the crucial role that human rights lawyers play in upholding the rule of law, and investigate any threats they may face,” Amnesty insisted.

The incident

“On the night of February 16, police officials visited the home of the lawyers’ landlord, and took him to a local police station. The landlord returned the next morning and told the lawyers that he had ‘no choice’ but to ask them to vacate their home and office”, it said.
Amnesty quoted Gera as saying, “The landlord was asked by the police to ensure that we vacate the house within a day or two.” It added, “An official at the police station told Amnesty that the landlord had been questioned on a different matter.”
“Later that day, members of an anti-Maoist group with links to the state police held a demonstration against JagLAG, accusing them of being defenders of Maoists. The group has also held a public meeting and issued a press statement in which it accuses the lawyers of supporting ‘bloodthirsty Maoists’,” Amnesty reported.
Senior police officials in the state have informally accused JagLAG of being Maoist sympathisers. Last year, based on an anonymous complaint that the lawyers did not have the correct credentials to practice law in the region, police officials called them in for questioning.
In October 2015, the local bar association passed a resolution prohibiting JagLAG lawyers from practicing in local courts. The lawyers have challenged the resolution in court. They also say that other lawyers who work with them have been harassed and threatened by members of the bar association.

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