Prominent activists from across India have asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to urgently intervene and take steps against those responsible for the manner of arrest of the seven member Fact Finding Team seeking to visit Bastar region of Chhattisgarh in Telangana on December 25, 2016, calling the act a “serious constitutional, legal and human rights violation.”
In a signed letter to the NHRC chairman, 45 activists have said this was done in the garb of “combating ‘Maoism’,” and is part of the state unleashing an “unprecedented spree of threats, violence, false cases, arbitrary arrests, detentions, dubious encounters, rapes, sexual assault etc.” in Bastar area of Chhattisgarh.
Those who have signed the statement include Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey of the the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, Prafulla Samantara of the Lok Shakti Abhiyan (Odisha), and Binayak Sen and Kavita Srivastava of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
Pointing out that all the team members were “picked up in the day on December 25, at Dummagudam village, Bhadrachalam District, Telangana, when they were planning to visit Chhattisgarh to enquire into complaints of human rights violations suffered by adivasi villagers”, the letter says, later in the evening, they were handed over to the Chhattisgarh police.”
“Reportedly they have been charged of various offences including possessing ‘banned’ literature and banned currency notes, providing ‘assistance’ to Naxals, ‘instigating’ adivasis against the state/police etc. An FIR was registered under the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act (CSPA), 2005 by the Sukma police”, the letter says.
On December 26, all the seven were produced before the remanding court in Sukma and remanded to judicial custody after the court was “misled” that they were arrested in Chhattisgarh, while actually they were arrested in in Telangana, the letter alleges.
Calling it an “act of state vendetta and a glaring example of gross abuse of public office”, the letter says, the arrest was “totally unlawful, unwarranted and violative of the numerous orders issued by the Supreme Court”, adding, as they are all “respectable, law-abiding citizens” there was “no need for the arbitrary arrest or even denial of bail the ‘judicial custody’.”
“This is clearly a case of both Telangana and Chhattisgarh police overstepping their mandate and violating the law and the fundamental rights to free movement, freedom of speech and expression and the fundamental duty to protect the fundamental rights of adivasis and other local people in Bastar area who are victims of a severely repressive state police”, the letter says.
“The alleged torture and encounter of a minor, Somaru Pottam from Metapal village in mid-December by the security forces, in which the Bilaspur High Court has ordered a repeat autopsy two days back is only one of many such likely incidents”, it says, pointing towards how a “continuous threat climate” has been created against those who have ensured the repeat autopsy.
The letter refers to how, on December 30, advocate Shanili Gera and other legal activists were being harassed by the superintendent of police, Bastar, RN Dash, at Jagdalpur, because they were part of them for carrying out the orders of the High Court for exhumation of the body of Pottam.
Insisting that all charges against the seven members of the Fact Finding Team be dropped and criminal prosecution should be initiated against the concerned police officers for “abuse of due process law”, the letter asks NHRC to summon SRP Kalluri, Inspector General of Police, Bastar Division and RN Dash, SP, Bastar, “to offer a detailed explanation of all charges of human rights violations.”
At the same time, it asks NHRC to send a high-level team to visit various areas in the Bastar region and obtain first hand information of the serious issues of gross human rights abuses, to enable quick and appropriate action as per law.