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Detention of civil rights activists in Vishakhapattanam "a threat to constitutionalism, rule of law": PUCL

By Our Representative
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has strongly condemned “arbitrary and illegal” detention of civil liberties activists and human rights defenders in Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, on October 9, 2014 when they were trying to hold a press conference at the Civil Library, Vishakhapatnam, to announce a meeting on October 12 to protest against Operation Green Hunt. “The hostile and intimidatory action of the police was supported at the highest level in the state government”, said PUCL, adding, this was clear “when the Vizag police arrested five other human rights activists who had gone to the Camp Office of DIG, Vishakhapatnam Range, to bring to his notice the illegal arrests of their colleagues.”
Signed by Prof Prabhakar Sinha, national president, PUCL, and Dr V Suresh, national general secretary, PUCL, the statement by the influential civil rights group said, “The fact that the Andhra Pradesh police released the activists subsequently does not mitigate from the fact that the government and police’s action constitute a serious threat to constitutionalism, rule of law and fundamental right to free speech and expression, assembly and dissent.”
Those detained, and subsequently released, are Vishakhapatnam District Civil Liberties Committee chief T Sriram Murthy, Anti-privatisation Committee member PV Ramana, fishermen’ community leader and advocate KS Chalam, Stree Shakti activist B Lalitha, Indian Atheists’ Association members S Ramaraju and Nooka Raju, state secretary of the Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR) C BhaskaraRao, civil liberties activists N Srimannarayana, Gudimell Raghuram and SurlaVenkataramana, and advocate Palleti Appa Rao.
“What is equally deplorable is that the police did not permit the media to meet the detained activists at the Civil Library. This constitutes a serious curtailment of freedom of the press to freely and independently function and is violative of the Indian Constitution”, the statement said.
Calling the police action “violent and draconian”, and saying that the action of “detaining and arresting human rights activists” was nothing but “abuse of power”, the statement said, “It amounts to suppression of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. It is an attempt to stifle critical discussion of undemocratic state policies and is calculated to intimidate, threaten and silence members of civil society from questioning the unacceptable police action.”
“The activists arrested were well within their constitutional and legal rights to hold press meeting as also to announce arrangements for a public discussion. The Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed that dissent and oppositional views are essential part of democratic process and the government has to learn to respect all views and not use its brute powers to stifle dissent”, the PUCL claimed.
Operation Green Hunt is being carried out in Central India over the last few years, supposedly as a counterinsurgency operation against Maoists. It has come under criticism from civil liberties and human rights organisations owing to repeated incidents of civilian casualties in encounters, complaints of widespread arbitrary and capricious arrests of ordinary adivasis who are languishing in jail for long years, and complaints of motivated implications in false criminal cases of political opponents.
Saying that the arrest of human rights defenders is “a draconian measure sought to be taken by the Andhra Pradesh government to prevent a public debate on these issues which are vital to the constitutional rights to life and liberty, particularly of the indigenous populations of Central India, are thus doubly reprehensible”, the statement said, “The actions of the Andhra Pradesh government also reflect the short sighted and undemocratic attitude of labeling all dissent/ criticism as illegal or extremist, and even peaceful association, expression or protest as ‘support to banned organisations.”
Saying that tThis attitude was severely castigated by the Hon’ble Apex Court in the 5th July 2013 Judgment in the Nandini Sundar case, the PUCL demanded that “the Government of Andhra Pradesh should respect the fundamental rights of citizens to free speech and expression, assembly and human rights and immediately stops the undemocratic and unconstitutional abuse / misuse of its police powers to stifle free speech and dissent.”

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