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Human rights defenders face intimidation from police after People’s Tribunal

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masum_india.jpgHuman rights defenders are facing harassment from police after organizing a People’s Tribunal on Torture in Kolkatta. Charges are being lodged against them for impersonating a police officer or juror and criminal conspiracy.

FORUM-ASIA is urging the government to drop the chargers and respect human rights in line with its commitment to do so when it represents India in the United Nations.

Human rights defenders face intimidation from police after People’s Tribunal

FORUM-ASIA is deeply concerned over incidences of harassment faced by members of a Kolkata-based human rights organisation – the Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), The organisation coordinated a People’s Tribunal on Torture in Moulali, Kolkata, where 1,200 victims were present and 82 people deposed in front of the Tribunal. This tribunal is part of the National Project on Preventing Torture in India (NPPTI), and was a collaboration with FORUM-ASIA’s member organisation in India, People’s Watch.

According to MASUM, the harassment began a few days before the Tribunal, on June 7. Despite a visit by a police officer to MASUM’s office earlier, and his refusal to accept the legality of the Tribunal, MASUM went ahead with the Tribunal.

On June 10, after the event successfully concluded, a police officer trespassed into the venue and took photographs of the premises without permission. When questioned, the officer revealed he was under order from the Detective Department.

MASUM contacted the Commissioner of Police Gautam Mohan Chakrabarty, who informed the former that a criminal case had been lodged against the organisation’s President and NPPTI state director, Mr. Kirity Roy. Gautam refused to give further information or details.

Later, People’s Watch and MASUM found out that the case was filed against Mr. Kirity Roy and others by the Detective Department of Police at Taltolla under sections 170 (Personating a public officer)/ 229 (Personation of a juror or assessor) and 120B (Criminal Conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

Meanwhile, on June 12, about 12 plain clothes policemen searched MASUM premises, while 10 armed officers waited outside. Although the officers had a search warrant, MASUM did not know what was the investigation for. The organization felt that the number of police force and timing of the raid induce that the action aimed in repression and intimidation rather than law enforcement.

Currently, plain clothes police personnel are visiting houses of victims of torture, who deposed before the tribunal to get their statements. Police officers also visited the office and house of the decorator, who supplied chairs, tables, and cooking utensils , and threatened them so that they will issue a statement against the organization.

Meanwhile, on 29-30 May, during the People’s Tribunal on Torture in Tamil Nadu, People’s Watch also faced intimidation and harassment from police forces, and false cases were registered against four members of the organization, including its Executive Director, Henri Tiphagne.

On 26 June, in conjunction with International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, about 40 human rights and women’s organizations held a large people’s convention in front of Calcutta University to protest the police raid at MASUM’s office. Participants included several judges, advocates, doctors, professors, news magazine editors, victims and their families, who rallied together with Justice Malay Sengupta and the jury / panel members of the Peoples Tribunal.

However, that meeting also saw plain clothed policemen present to take photographs. We also understand that Kirity Roy’s mobile phone is tapped.

FORUM-ASIA is appalled by the intimidation and threats which hamper the conduct of the Public Tribunals, including the judicial harassment faced by the human rights defenders involved.

India was elected at the UN Human Rights Council in 2007, for a three year term, and agreed, for this purpose, to uphold the highest standards of promotion and protection of human rights in the country. The acts committed by the police forces and judicial instances are anything but in line with this commitment.

Once more, FORUM-ASIA urges the Government of India to comply with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or collectively, to promote the protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.

On these grounds, FORUM-ASIA calls onto the Government of Tamil Nadu, and the Government of West Bengal to drop all charges falsely registered against the human rights defenders. Furthermore, the Government of India ought to take the necessary measures in assisting People’s Watch, MASUM, and the other organizations involved in the good conduct of the National Project on Preventing Torture in India (NPPTI).