Crackdown on Activists in Central India Continues

Thanks to your work, Indian indigenous (adivasi) human rights activist Kopa Kunjam was released in early October. Mr. Kunjam had been in jail since December of 2009 for his peaceful activism on behalf of adivasis affected by the conflict between Maoist insurgents and the state government of Chhattisgarh, India.

While we’re thankful for Mr. Kunjam’s release, other non-violent activists continue to be jailed in Chhattisgarh for criticizing the state government, Dr. Binayak Sen being the best known.  The latest arrests include human rights activist Soni Sodi and her nephew, journalist Lingaram Kodopi, outspoken critics of human rights abuses in the region who were arrested on false charges by the Chhattisgarh government.


Amnesty Groups Mobilize for Rights of Indigenous People in India

Kartam Joga

Human rights defender and prisoner of conscience, Kartam Joga.

Since 2005, Chhattisgarh has been at war with armed Maoist insurgents while aggressively pursuing massive and environmentally destructive development projects.

Not surprisingly, human rights have been pushed aside as an impediment to fighting terrorism and as a hindrance to development. Again and again, the Chhattisgarh government has jailed human rights, environmental, and indigenous activists on politically-motivated charges including Binayak Sen, Kartam Joga, Kopa Kunjam, Ramesh Agrawal, Harihar Patel, and most recently Lingaram Kodopi .

It has created and supported armed ant-Maoist militias that the Indian Supreme Court has since ruled unconstitutional. Thousands of locals caught in the crossfire or suspected of being Maoist sympathizers have been killed, tens of thousands have been forced from their homes. Rapes and extrajudicial killings are carried out with impunity.


Sure Binayak Sen Is Free, But What About Kartam Joga?

Kartam Joga, now languishing in jail, copyright: Amnesty International

In a victory for human rights defenders in India, Dr. Binayak Sen was released on bail last week by India’s Supreme Court after appealing his life sentence for sedition and treason. From the beginning, Dr. Sen – a doctor and human rights activist in Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest and most violent states – maintained his innocence. During his trial Dr. Sen stated:

“I submit that my prosecution is mala fide; in fact it is a persecution. I am being made an example of by the state government of Chhattisgarh as a warning to others not to expose the patent trampling of human rights taking place in the state.”

In Chhattisgarh and other parts of rural India violence between armed Maoist insurgents, state-sponsored militias, and government security forces have resulted in increased hardship for local residents, mostly poor adivasis. Dr. Sen and other human rights activists have struggled to provide services to locals and highlight the human rights abuses they suffer, often at great risk to their own lives and livelihoods. Take action now to call for the release of Kartam Joga, another human rights activist jailed in Chhattisgarh for his criticism of the state government and advocacy on behalf of civilians caught in the conflict.


Fate of Dr. Binayak Sen Will Show Real India

By Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, Amnesty International India Researcher

Dr. Binayak Sen in Chhattisgarh.

Ilina Sen says she has no plans to go to Bilaspur this Wednesday. That’s the day the high court in this central Indian state of Chhattisgarh will resume hearing on the appeal filed by her husband, the acclaimed Indian human rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen.

Dr. Sen is appealing against the life-term sentence handed over to him last month by a district court here which convicted him for sedition and conspiracy against the State. Unsure when he would be released following the hearing, or whether he would be released at all, Ilina says she plans to meet him two days later in the relative quiet of the prison here.

The conviction and the unusually harsh sentence handed down to Dr. Sen, a proponent of peace and non-violence and pioneer of medical work, have drawn wide protests in India and in the international arena, including condemnation from intellectuals, social activists and workers, medical professionals and artists.

Dr. Sen’s case is a truly test case for India. And the world will be watching this week to see the result.


Miscarriage of Justice

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Binayak Sen being led to court in Chhattisgarh

I’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks so I’ve not been able to join the condemnation (until now) of the flawed conviction in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh of Dr. Binayak Sen, a pediatrician and human rights activist, of terrorism charges.  His conviction, if upheld on appeal, will mean a life sentence for a man who has passionately defended the rights of indigenous peoples in his state and has saved the lives of countless children in his medical practice.

Dr. Sen is a recognized human rights activist who has done some amazing work on behalf of the organization called the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL).  The PUCL is very much analogous to the ACLU or Amnesty International USA here in the United States and his arrest, imprisonment and now conviction is akin to one of us here in America being arrested for human rights or civil liberties work.  He was convicted of “sedition” and conspiracy under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act, 2005, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004.  After being convicted, Dr. Sen was taken into custody and is now considered a Prisoner of Conscience.


Maoists Sabotage of Train Tracks Leave 71 Innocent Civilians Dead

Maoists guerrillas supposedly fighting for the rights of the poor in the eastern part of India dismantled part of train tracks in West Bengal (a communist ruled state) causing a train full of people travelling from Calcutta to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) to derail, killing 71 people.

Those 71 people were all innocent civilians many of whom were likely the poor that the Maoists claim to be fighting on behalf of.  This is the latest in a series of brutal attacks against civilians West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar.  

Stop Harassing Gandhian Activists!

The peace activists, belonging to the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA), a group that professes a Gandhian ideology of non-violence, have been campaigning for adivasi rights in the state for the past four years.  It’s been necessary because they are caught in the middle of an increasingly vicious conflict between the Maoist guerillas (aka the Naxalites) and basically pro-government vigilantes called the Salwa Judum.

On December 10, 2009 (Human Rights Day, no less), the Chhattisgarh state police arbitrarily arrested Kopa Kunjam (a member of the VCA) and Alban Toppo, a lawyer working with the New Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network (NRLN) at Dantewada in the southern part of the state. They were taken first to the Dantewada police station and then to the Bhairamgarh police station in the neighboring Bijapur district.

Alban Toppo reported that the police tortured him and Kopa Kunjam that night at the Bhairamgarh police station. They were beaten with thick bamboo sticks and rubber canes for 30 minutes. Toppo was forced to sign a letter stating that they had come to Bhairamgarh police station of their own accord. As a result of the torture, Toppo sustained injuries on his right elbow, biceps and back, causing severe pain and swelling. He could not move his hands and back because of the pain. Kopa Kunjam sustained serious injuries on his chest, back and leg, which left him unable to walk.

Although Toppo was released that night, he remained at the police station, as he had no means of returning home. Accompanied by police personnel, he was able to return the next morning. On December 12, 2009, Kopa Kunjam appeared before a local court where he was charged, under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, with the murder of Punem Honga, a local leader and member of the Salwa Judum, who had been abducted by the Maoists on June 2, 2009.

The arbitrary detention of the VCA activists clearly violates India’s Supreme Court guidelines issued in the D. K. Basu vs State of West Bengal case and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a state party. Article 9 of the ICCPR guarantees the right to liberty, which includes freedom from arbitrary detention.

The Government of Chhattisgarh needs to do the following:

  1. drop the politically motivated charges against Kopa Kunjam;
  2. investigate the allegations of ill-treatment again Mr. Kunjam and Mr. Toppo;
  3. ensure that human rights defenders are able to their work without fear of harassment, arbitrary arrest and torture.

Given that the state was formed in 2000 to address the aspirations of adivasis, it is disappointing that the state government continues to use the heavy hand of the police to harm those practicing their constitutionally guaranteed rights of free expression.