Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2006 - India

Ongoing criminal proceedings against 14 human rights defenders56

As of the end of 2006, criminal proceedings against 14 members of the National Group on NGOs of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which began in March 2005, were still pending before the Cuddalore Second Magistrates Court (Tamil Nadu). Moreover, some of the accused had still not received a copy of the report incriminating them.

On October 11, 2004, several members of the National Group on NGOs of the NHRC had met at the Cuddalore town hall (Tamil Nadu) for a training session in the framework of the Campaign Against Torture – Tamil Nadu (CAT-TN). Members of these organisations planned to hold a press conference that afternoon on human rights violations committed by Mr. Prem Kumar, superintendent in the district of Cuddalore. As the training session was about to start, a group of police officers burst into the room and interrupted the meeting, stating that the press conference was banned. Mr. Henri Tiphagne, executive director of People's Watch – Tamil Nadu (PW-TN), an NGO promoting human rights education, was violently taken to the police station in the town hall. Thirteen other defenders, including Mr. Nizamudeen, national secretary general of the Core Coordination Group on NGOs, and Mr. Murugappan, regional monitoring director at PW-TN, were also arrested and taken to the police station of Cuddalore.

They were held in police custody for more than seven hours, before being released on bail.

By the end of 2006, all 14 people remained charged under Articles 147 (rioting), 452 (house trespassing with intention to injure, to assault or to exert duress), and 506(ii) (criminal intimidation) of the Criminal Code and Article 7(1) (a) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act (provocation of a person with intention to cause damage).

Moreover, no action was taken in relation to the complaint that was lodged on October 13, 2004 with Mr. Jangrid, general inspector of the police responsible for Cuddalore and the north of Tamil-Nadu, following these events, despite a number of reminders sent in 2005 and 2006.

Obstacles to Mr. Parvez Imroz's freedom of mouvement57

On June 2, 2006, Mr. Parvez Imroz, a lawyer and founder of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), was awarded the international human rights prize "Ludovic-Trarieux" by the Human Rights Institutes of the Bordeaux, Brussels, Paris and the European Bars58. In order to receive his prize, Mr. Imroz was invited to go to France on October 13, 2006. However, despite national and international pressure and numerous requests by Mr. Imroz to Indian authorities to renew his passport, these remained without response. He was therefore not able to leave India. His wife and his nephew, Mr. Parvez Khurram, a human rights defender, received the prize on his behalf.

Arbitrary detention and release of two TIPS members59

On August 23, 2006, members of the Manipur police and officers from the Assam Rifles (a paramilitary unit) arrested at his home Mr. Yengkokpam Langamba Meitei (alias Thabi), public relations secretary of the Threatened Indigenous Peoples' Society (TIPS) of Manipur and a spokesperson for Apunda Lup, a Manipur-based coalition of 34 human rights organisations. The police produced a memo relating to Section 41 of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows police to arrest a person without a warrant. Mr. Langamba was taken to the Imphal police station, where he was accused of being involved in a vehicle-burning incident in Kamuchingjil and of stealing official files from government offices.

In the night of August 24 to 25, 2006, his colleague, Mr. Leitanthem Umakanta Meitei, a human rights lawyer and TIPS secretary general, was arrested at his residence in Porompat Thawanthaba Leikai by the same team. Among other things, the officers seized fifteen CDs, three books from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and his wife's mobile phone. The warrant for Mr. Umakanta Meitei's arrest was not produced until after he was arrested, when his wife and his brother went to visit him at the police station.

These detentions were probably linked to the demonstration that was organised on August 23, 2006 by Apunba Lup to protest against a bomb attack on August 16, 2006 that killed five Hindus and injured over forty as they prayed in the temple of Krishna in Manipur.

After their arrest, both men were detained at the Imphal police station, where they were interrogated and ill-treated by the police. They were also denied the right to meet their lawyer. They were both charged under Sections 38 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (1967), which applies to people who support a terrorist organisation, for allegedly maintaining links with an illegal group called the Organisation to Save the Revolutionary Movement in Manipur (Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup – KYKL).

On August 29 and September 1, 2006 respectively, the chief judicial magistrate ordered Mr. Umakanta and Mr. Langamba's release on bail for lack of evidence. However, they both refused to pay the bail and insisted on their unconditional release. They were subsequently remanded to judicial custody for an additional 15 days in Sajiwa central jail.

On October 4, 2006, a Court in Manipur ordered their release. All charges against them were dropped.

Arbitrary detention of Ms. Irom Chanu Sharmila60

For the past six years, Ms. Irom Chanu Sharmila has regularly been on a hunger strike to protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)61, which is at the origin of many acts of police violence in the State of Manipur. She began the strike after the Malon massacre on November 2, 2000, in which the members of the Assam Rifles shot down 10 suspected insurgents at a bus stop near Imphal.

This tragic event was an illustration of the abuses generated by the AFSPA, which entered into force in 1958. This Act gives the Indian army full powers in areas affected by armed uprising, notably in Kashmir and in the north-eastern states, including Manipur, where separatists rebels are present. In particular, the AFSPA empowers soldiers to arrest, keep in detention and shoot at any person (section 4.a) so as to "maintain public order" if the soldier has reasons to believe that he or she is an "insurgent". This can be carried out with total impunity and the law requires the permission from the central government to prosecute a member of the army. To this day, no soldier has been sentenced on the basis of this law.

Ms. Sharmila was arrested for the first time in November 2000 for "attempting suicide" (Section 309 of the Criminal Code) and has refused to eat or drink since then. The maximum sentence under Section 309 of the Code is one year in detention. Ms. Sharmila is thus released every year and then placed in detention the next day for the same reasons.

On October 2, 2006, she went to New Delhi on the day of her "annual release" to give a national resonance to her action. She was arrested a few days after her arrival by the police and forcibly hospitalised at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where she was force-fed by a nasal tube.

On November 28, 2006, Ms. Sharmila took the tube out to continue her hunger strike. She is watched by several dozen policemen and cannot move, speak nor meet people freely.

Acts of harassment against MASUM62

On November 10, 2006, the headquarters of Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), a human rights organisation working in India and South Asia and specialised in denouncing torture, were searched by a policeman from the District Intelligence Branch Department (DIB) in Howrah, West Bengal. During the search, the policeman enquired about the organisation's activities and its registration certificate, and asked for the name and contact details of its managers. The only employee present at the time refused to give the information and asked the officer to come back later.

On November 21, 2006, another search was carried out at the MASUM headquarters by the same policeman, who was looking for more information on the organisation. He notably wrote down the address of Mr. Kirity Roy, MASUM secretary general, and asked for the association's registration certificate.

Mr. Roy was present during the search. When he asked the police officer for a search warrant, the policeman replied that he was obeying orders from the chief inspector of the West Bengal police. He then left the premises, saying that he would bring the warrant at a later time.

Mr. Roy received a telephone call shortly afterwards, summoning him to a meeting with the deputy police superintendent at the DIB office in Howrah. When Mr. Roy asked him to send a written summons, the police officer hung up.

On December 9, 2005, Mr. Kirity Roy had already been arrested by the police in Lal Bazar, Calcutta, West Bengal, along with 21 people, including Mr. Abhijit Datta, MASUM assistant secretary, Mr. Pradip Mukherjee, a MASUM employee, Mr. Nirmal Karmakar, secretary of the Deganga unit of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), Mr. Phanigopal Battacharjee, secretary of Indo-Japan Steels Workers' Union, and Mr. Dipankar Mitra, a member of the Calcutta section of ActionAid. At the time, they were peacefully protesting in front of the secretariat of the government of West Bengal using banners to denounce cases of human rights violations committed by police officers. All of these persons were detained at the Lal Bazar police station before being released three hours later without charge.

Arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment of Ms. Medha Patkar and several of her supporters63

On December 2, 2006, Ms. Medha Patkar, the founder and director of the Save the Narmada Movement (Narmada Bachao Andolan – NBA), a coalition of local organisations fighting for the rights of people who were displaced because of the dam-building projects on the Narmada river (which is also affecting the eco-system), was arbitrarily detained when she was on her way to Singur, Hooghly district, in West Bengal, to show her support to Singur villagers who were threatened with eviction because of the construction of a car factory on their land.

Seven other members of the organisation were also arrested. During her detention, Ms. Medha Patkar was reportedly victim of ill-treatment and insults. Her companions, including Mr. Dipankar Chakraborty and Mr. Sumit Chowdhury, were released on bail from the Chinsura police station. As to Ms. Medha Patkar, she was taken to Kolkota, where she remained in detention in a police car all night until being released the next morning.

Faced with the villagers' resistance to their eviction, the state's government deployed a contingent of close to 5,000 policemen and members of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) on November 2 to circle the village's land with barbed wire. The mobilised villagers tried to resist, but they were rapidly charged by the police and the RAF, armed with blundgeons, tear gas and rubber bullets.

The policemen also allegedly entered neighbouring villages, hitting and assaulting villagers, including women, elderly people and children. Several people were seriously injured.

During this incident, the police arrested more than 60 people, including women and children, in order to forcibly take their land. A dozen people were allegedly injured.

On December 4, 2006, Ms. Patkar was arrested by the police again as she was trying to enter the city. She was detained in a pension in Dankunim with several companions, including Ms. Anuradha Talwar and Ms. Rekha Sarkar. She was released on the afternoon of December 5, 2006 and immediately attempted to enter the city again. The police stopped her once more and took her back to Kolkota.

Moreover, on December 9, 2006, Ms. Patkar participated in a silent protest in Kolkota to denounce police repression during a protest organised the day before by several political parties who were trying to enter Singur. Ms. Patkar and several other participants were then arrested and taken to the Lalbazar police station in Kolkota, before being released a few hours later without charge.

No arrest warrant was ever presented to Ms. Patkar and no file has been registered with the police.

On April 5, 2006, a peaceful protest in Delhi against the transfer of thousands of people because of the dam project of Sardar Sarovar, on the Narmada River, was violently repressed by the police.

Ms. Medha Patkar and Mr. Jamsingh Nargave, an NBA activist, were taken to a government hospital, where they were detained by the police for several days.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

56. See Annual Reports 2003 and 2005.

57. See Press Release, October 11, 2006 and Closed Letter to the Indian authorities, September 20, 2006.

58. The Ludovic-Trarieux Prize is awarded every year to a lawyer who defends human rights, the rule of law and the fight against all forms of racism and intolerance.

59. See Urgent Appeals IND 001/0906/OBS 106 and 106.1.

60. See Urgent Appeal IND 003/1206/OBS 151.

61. On June 6, 2005, Justice Jeevan Reddy received the conclusions of the report submitted by the Committee constituted by the government to examine the AFSPA. The conclusions, which had never been made public, appeared in the press in October 2006. In its recommendations, the Committee expressly called for the repeal of the law which "has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and authoritarianism."

62. See Annual Report 2005 and Urgent Appeal IND 002/1206/OBS 144.

63. See MASUM.


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