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Human rights defender arbitrarily detained in India

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FORUM-ASIA submitted a case fact sheet to Hina Jilani, the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, about physical assault and arbitrary arrest of an employee of People’s Watch, a FORUM-ASIA member in India. In March he went to a police station of Karnataka State in India to monitor human rights situation and as he asked the reason for the torture of two men he saw, he got arrested.

(Bangkok, 24 October 2007) Today FORUM-ASIA submitted a case file to Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, about the physical assault and arbitrary arrest of Vasanth SR, a staff member of People’s Watch, a FORUM-ASIA member organisation in India.  On 8 March 2007, Vasanth, who was in the Medikeri Town police station conducting human rights monitoring, saw police officers start to torture two men at the station. Vasanth tried to step in and inquire, thereby allegedly angering the officers, resulting in his immediate arrest and detention. 

Vasanth visited Medikeri for the “National Project on the Prevention of Torture in India”, sponsored by the European Union. The project is being undertaken by People’s Watch and the South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM).

SICHREM received a call from Vasanth as soon as he was thrown into jail. They could not get in touch with him afterwards, since his mobile phone allegedly was switched off. SICHREM therefore sent a telegram to the Superintendent of the Police, Inspector General of Police, the Director General of Police, and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India.

The following day, 9 March 2007, Mathews Philip, the Executive Director of SICHREM, lodged a complaint with the NHRC.  Henri Tiphagne, the Executive Director of People’s Watch and a member of the NHRC’s NGO core group, likewise wrote to the NHRC to immediately intervene in this case.  It was not until 19 July 2007 that the NHRC heard the case. The NHRC merely referred the case back to the Police Superintendent of the same district where Vasanth was arbitrarily arrested and detained. 

Vasanth is currently out on bail, but he is waiting for his trial to start for the charge under Article 353 of the Indian Penal Code, a provision which punishes any person who assaults or uses criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging his duties. If found guilty, Vasanth may face up to two years of imprisonment. FORUM-ASIA is urging the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders to intervene in this case as the organisation believes that a human rights defender undertaking legitimate work should not be harassed and proceeded against under false charges.