India: Acts of harassment against Soni Sori, tribal rights activist and women’s rights defender

29/06/2016
Urgent Appeal

New information
IND 003 / 0316 / OBS 024.1
Obstacles to freedom of movement /
Harassment / Threats
India
June 29, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about acts of harassment against Ms. Soni Sori, tribal rights activist and women’s rights defender [1], and other members of a fact-finding team [2] investigating a reported incident of rape and a “fake encounter” [3]killing of a young tribal woman in Gompad village, Konta Tehsil, in Sukma district, Chhattisgarh State.

According to the information received, on June 15, 2016, a team led by Ms. Soni Sori tried to visit the village of Gompadin Chhattisgarh State in order to investigate a reported incident of rape by security forces and a “fake encounter killing” of a young tribal woman [4]. However, the team was not able to reach the village of Gompad as they were stopped and harassed at four different camps [5] along the road. At each checkpoint, members of the team underwent thorough questioning about their identity, the purpose of their mission, as well as the places they were planning to visit. It is to be noted that the police already had this information since the team had informed them of the mission in advance. It is therefore believed that such interrogation was merely aimed at harassing and delaying the team.The latter was finally stopped just 10 km from the village and held for almost four hours at the Injeram Camp.

Eventually, in the evening of June 15, 2016, Ms. Soni Sori and her colleagues returned to Sukma in order to meet with the Collector [6] and the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) of Sukma, Mr. Santosh Singh. ASP Singh, who refused to allow the fact-finding team to proceed with the planned visit unless they were accompanied by a security official, adding that no officer was available at the moment.

Ms. Soni Sori and other members of her team subsequently decided to hold a protest before the Sukma Collectorate until they would be allowed to proceed to the village and undertake their mission. Ms. Sori also started a fast outside of the Sukma Collectorate on that night [7].

On June 16, 2016, other members of the Aam Aadmi Party, of which Ms. Sori is a member, joined the fact-finding team and tried again to meet with police officers to get permission to visit the village.The Sukma ASP then decided to allow all team members to visit the village, with the exception of Ms. Sori, who was denied the right to proceed beyond Konta village on the grounds that she needed to be accompanied by a security official as "the State was responsible for he security" [8], but that no such official was available at the moment.

Despite the assurance from a high-ranking police officer that they could proceed with the mission, all the members of the team were stopped again at the camps along their way to Konta. In Konta, they were told that none of them could proceed further to the village of Gompad. When they left Konta police station, they faced an unruly mob of people who threatened Ms. Soni with violence if she proceeded further towards the village, while the police watched from the sidelines. On the next day, the same unruly mob visited the team again at the government rest house where they had spent the night, and again threatened them with physical violence. The team was then forced to leave Konta.

The Observatory condemns the above-mentioned restrictions to freedom of movement and acts of harassment towards Ms. Soni Sori and other members of the above-mentioned fact-finding team, as they are clearly aimed at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities, and calls upon the Indian authorities to immediately and unconditionally put an end to all acts of restrictions and harassment against them, as well as against all human rights defenders in the country.

Background information:

The Observatory recalls that Ms. Soni Sori already faced reprisals in the past for denouncing violations where members of the police forces were allegedly involved.

On February 20, 2016, three unidentified men attacked Ms. Soni Sori while she was travelling home, and threw a chemical substance on her face, which resulted in severe burning and her hospitalization. The attackers threatened to pursue their attacks on her daughter if she continued her work on the case of extra-judicial killing in which several members of the police force were allegedly involved.

In the morning of March 10, 2016, Mr. Ajay Markam, Ms. Soni Sori’s brother-in-law, was arbitrarily arrested in his home in the district of Dantewada by the Jagdalpur police. In detention, the police officers and the Chief Superintendent interrogated him regarding the attack of February 20 on Ms. Soni Sori and threatened to charge him with organizing the assault. They released him in the morning of March 12. Previously on March 1 and 9, 2016, the police had already summoned him for questioning and during the interrogation the officers physically and verbally abused him.

On March 11, 2016, following the arrest of Mr. Ajay Markam, Ms. Soni Sori’s father as well as other members of her family went to the Inspector General of the Bastar Police to seek information about his situation and his whereabouts and share their concerns regarding his arbitrary detention. In response, the Inspector General threatened the family members to keep him in detention and claimed in addition that the whole family would face consequences for Ms. Soni Sori’s work in defense of human rights.

On the same day at 4 p.m., Ms. Dhani Markam, Ms. Soni Sori’s sister and Mr. Markam’s wife, was also arrested and detained for questioning at the same Jagdalpur police station as her husband. She was released later that same night, after having been verbally abused and threatened.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of India asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Soni Sori, the other members of the above-mentioned fact-finding mission, as well as of all human rights defenders in India;

ii. Put an end to any form of harassment and restrictions to freedom of movement against Ms. Soni Sori, the other members of the above-mentioned fact-finding mission as well as all human rights defenders in India sothat they are able to carry out their work without hindrances;

iii. Conduct a prompt, independent and thorough investigation on the aforementioned act of harassment and threats against Ms. Soni Sori in order to identify the perpetrators, bring them before an independent, just and impartial tribunal and apply to them all the necessary administrative and/or criminal sanctions foreseen by law;

iv. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Article 1 and 12.2;

v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by India.

Addresses:

· Mr. Shri Nanredra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, Prime Minister’s Office, Room number 152, South Block, New Delhi, India. Fax: + 91 11 2301 6857. E-mail: pmosb@pmo.nic.in / manmo@sansad.in
· Mr. Raj Nath Singh, Union Minister of Home Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, 104-107 North Block, New Delhi 110 001 India, Fax: +91 11 2309 2979. Email: dirfcra-mha@gov.in
· Justice T.S. Thakur,, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court, Tilak Marg, New Delhi -1, India. Fax: +91 11 233 83792, Email: supremecourt@nic.in
· Justice Shri H.L. Dattu, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Manav Adhikar Bhawan Block-C, GPO Complex, INA, New Delhi - 110023, India. Fax +91 11 2465 1329. Email: covdnhrc@nic.in; ionhrc@nic.in
· Mr. Srinivasa Kammath, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission, Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi 110 001, India. Email: hrd-nhrc@nic.in
· H.E. Mr. Ajit Kumar, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations (Geneva), Rue du Valais 9, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 906 86 96, Email: mission.india@ties.itu.int
· Embassy of India in Brussels, 217 Chaussée de Vleurgat, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 6489638 / +32 2 6451869

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of India in your respective country.

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    Geneva-Paris, June 29, 2016

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