Further acts of judicial harassment against Mr. Gopen Chandra Sharma - IND 002 / 0807 / OBS 017.2

13/08/2007
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources of further acts of judicial harassment against Mr. Gopen Chandra Sharma, District Human Rights Officer of People’s Watch’s “National Project on Prevention of Torture in India” (NPPT), in the Murshidabad District of West Bengal [1], and a member of the human rights organisation Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM).

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

New information:

According to the information received, on August 1, 2007, Mr. Gopen Chandra Sharma was charge sheeted by the Jalangi police station under the direction of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Baharampur of Murshidabad district in West Bengal. The complainant in the case, Mr. Shanti Ranjan Mondal, alleged that Mr. Gopen Sharma accepted Rupees 6,000 (about 150 US$) for, accordingly, promising that he would arrange for a telephone connection for him. The later accused Mr. Sharma of having failed to keep his promise. This was denied by Mr. Sharma.

The Chief Judicial Magistrate ordered that the complaint be forwarded to the Jalangi Police Station to be registered as a First Information Report. A case was then registered against Mr. Sharma under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code, for "cheating".

However, it seems to appear that this case was filed at the initiative of two Sub-Inspectors of the Jalangi Police Station, namely Mr. Swapan Saha and Mr. Tuhin Biswas, who have been challenged several times by Mr. Sharma for their abuse of power. Furthermore, one of the witnesses present at the court, Mr. Surya Kanta Sarkar, is accused within the framework of a case that Mr. Sharma had been investigating, i.e. the murder of Mr. Surya Kanta Sarkar’s sister-in-law. In particular, MASUM had complained to various higher police officials and to the West Bengal Commission for Women about the fact that the officers of the Jalangi police station did not investigate the case properly. Sub-inspector Tuhin Biswas would have played a vital role in helping that the husband and in-laws of the victim be arrested under lighter penal sections than it should have been.

On August 4, 2007, Mr. Gopen Sharma filed an application under section 438 of the Criminal Procedure Code for anticipatory bail to the District and Sessions Judge of Murshidabad. The date of the hearing concerning the anticipatory bail application was set to August 9, 2007.

On that date, the police did not submit any report before the court of District and Sessions Judge of Murshidabad. The Court then directed the police to submit report over the matter.

Background information:

On February 8, 2007, Mr. Gopen Sharma had been arbitrarily arrested by police officers while visiting the Kaharpara Border Out Post of the Border Security Force (BSF) camp in order to collect information on three cases of human rights violations that would have been committed by the BSF, following complaints lodged to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

During his arrest, Mr. Gopen Sharma was reportedly threatened and insulted by a police officer, who accused him of filing complaints with human rights groups against the police and the BSF. In addition, the police seized all documents and papers regarding the complaints to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Mr. Gopen Sharma’s mobile phone.

These events followed a fact-finding mission carried out on February 1, 2007 by Mr. Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director of People’s Watch, Mr. Kirity Roy, Mr. Biplap Mukherjee, State Programme Coordinator of the "National Project on Prevention of Torture in India" (NPPT), in the Murshidabad District of West Bengal (NPPT) for West Bengal, and Mr. Gopen Sharma, to make inquiries into human rights violations perpetrated by police officers against local villagers. When the fact-finding team reached the area, the BSF staff at the BSF Khayer Tala Border Out Post threatened and harassed the four human rights activists.

On March 20, 2007, Mr. Sharma was released on bail. However, he remains prosecuted under Sections 420 ("cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property"), 468 ("forgery for purpose of cheating") and 471 ("using as genuine a forged document"), of the Indian Penal Code, and faces up to ten years’ imprisonment.

Mr. Sharma’s wife was supposed to bear witness before the Court on August 4 and 6, 2007. But both hearings were postponed. The next hearing has been set to September 6, 2007.

Action requested:

Please write to the Indian authorities and ask them to :

i. take all necessary measures to guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Gopen Sharma;

ii. put an end to any kind of harassment, including judicial, against Mr. Gopen Sharma;

iii. put an end to any kind of reprisals against human rights defenders in India;

iv. 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";

v. guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments ratified by India.

Addresses:

- Shri Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, Prime Minister’s Office, Room number 152, South Block, New Delhi, Fax: + 91 11 2301 6857

- Shri Shivraj Patil, Union Minister of Home Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, 104-107 North Block, New Delhi 110 001 India, Fax: +91 11 2309 2979

- Justice K. G. Balkrishnan, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court of India, 1 Tilak Marg, New Delhi, Fax: +91 11 233 83792, Email: supremecourt@nic.in

- Justice Rajendra Babu, Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission of India, Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi 110 001, Tel: +91 11 230 74448, Fax: +91 11 2334 0016, Email: chairnhrc@nic.in

- Honorable Chief Justice, Calcutta High Court, Kolkata, West Bengal, INDIA, Fax: 91 33 22429158

- Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal, Writers’ Buildings, Kolkata - 700001 West Bengal, INDIA, Fax: +91 33 22144328

- Home Secretary, Government of West Bengal, Writers’ Buildings, Kolkata - 700001 West Bengal, INDIA, Fax: +91 33 22143001, Email: sechome@wb.gov.in

- Director General & Inspector General of Police, Government of West Bengal, Writers Buildings, Kolkata-1 West Bengal, INDIA, Fax: +91 33 2214 4498 / 2214 5486

- H.E. Mr. Swashpawan Singh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative to the United Nations (Geneva), Rue du Valais 9 (6ème étage), 1202 Geneva, Tel: +41 22 906 86 86, Fax: +41 22 906 86 96, Email: mission.india@ties.itu.int

- Mr. Dipak Chatterjee, Ambassador, Embassy of India in Brussels, 217 Chaussée de Vleurgat, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 (0)2 6489638 or +32 (0)2 6451869

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of India in your respective countries.

***

Geneva - Paris, August 10, 2007

Kindly inform the Observatory of any action undertaken quoting the code number of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

Tel and fax: FIDH : +33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / 33 (0) 1 43 55 18 80

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Email : Appeals@fidh-omct.org

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