Demands “Immediate Revocation” of Arrest, Search warrant and alleges harassment of HRDs who fight for indigenous peoples rights
On Tuesday, while hearing a petition filed by human rights defender, Jharkhand activist and a Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy, the Ranchi High Court refused to grant him and others protection from arrest and scheduled the next hearing for August 7. Reportedly, the public prosecutor objected to the FIR being quashed on the basis that the Magistrate’s court has already issued a search and seizure order for the property of the defenders mentioned in the warrant, effectively classifying them as absconders.
An FIR was filed against Father Stan Swamy, Aloka Kujur, Vinod Kumar, Rakesh Kumar Kiro and Babita Kashyap on June 19, 2019, a year after an FIR against 20 writers, intellectuals and activists was filed in Jharkhand on July 26, 2018 based on their Facebook posts.
All of them face the imminent threat of arrests due to an arrest warrant issued by the Chief Judicial Magistrate Khunti District, Jharkahnd on June 19, 2019.
Father Stan Swamy is a human rights defender who has long fought for Adivasis’ and Dalits’ rights. He founded the Visthapan Virodhi Janvikash Andolan, an all India platform to secure and protect the rights of Dalit and Adivasi peoples to their land. The platform supports people fighting against the forcible displacement of vulnerable communities against large corporates. Father has also worked for the rights of many Adivasi prisoners who languish in impoverished jails in Jharkhand without any crime or legal aid.
Aloka Kujur is a women’s rights advocate in Jharkhand and an indigenous peoples’ rights defender. She has also been involved in speaking out against human rights violations committed by security forces in Jharkhand's Ghagra village and its neighbouring villages. Vinod Kumar is a senior journalist and writer. Rakesh Roshan Kiro is a local human rights defender working peacefully for the human rights of vulnerable communities in the state.
In July, 2018, the Jharkhand police slapped 26 sedition cases against as many as 20 senior activists allegedly for publishing social media posts critical of the Raghubar Das-led BJP government and apparently for “playing a prominent role in Pathalgadi movement.” These included activists Father Stan Swamy, former Congress MLA Theodore Kiro, and Aloka Kujur. They were also charged with allegations of creating communal tension, violating IT Act, and cause law and order problems. The activists, at that time had rejected these as the scare tactic of the government. One of them, Kiro had said, “Jharkhand is facing an undeclared emergency. Here, the state government is targeting all those who do support its policies…At the centre of our struggle is the conflict over land.”
Pathalgadi is an ancient tradition of Adivasis and forest dwelling communities. More recently, residents of many villages in Jharkhand erected traditional stone plaques with inscriptions of articles from Constitution, provisions of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) and fifth schedule inscribed on them. This came to be known as Pathalgadi movement deriving from the words Pathal meaning rock and Gadhi meaning to dig or to erect or to build.
As per Adivasi rights activist, Dayamani Barla, “permanent camps of CRPF” came up in at least five villages of the Adivasis dominated district Khunti, in January 2019. Reportedly, the land was first obtained in the name of public services like community houses and when the villagers refused to give their land, it was acquired forcefully by picking up innocent villagers and Gram Sabha leaders and threatening them with false cases.
The Pathalgadi movement that resulted from the two-year long Adivasi agitations against the government’s proposal to introduce land acquisitions laws and state domicile eligibility, saw a wave of support from the villagers mainly Adivasis who declared the Gram Sabha as the sovereign authority. However, owing to the popularity of the movement among people, it faced severe repression from the Jharkhand state and police machinery, with as many as 150 named FIRs and thousands of unnamed FIRs.
A statement by the Frontline Defenders on the imminent threats of arrest of the activists said, “The FIR includes serious offences of “sedition”, “waging war against the state” (sections 124A and 121 of the Indian Penal Code respectively) and offences under the Information Technology Act of “sending offensive messages” and “cyber terrorism” under Sections 66A and 66F respectively. The inclusion of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act is in direct violation of a Supreme Court order of March 2015 repealing the provision as unconstitutional.”
Father Stan Swamy, Aloka Kujur, Vinod Kumar and Rakesh Roshan Kiro filed an application to the Ranchi High Court in 2018 to quash the FIR against them. Five other human rights defenders named in the FIR filed a separate application to the High Court for the same purpose. The warrant dated June 19, 2019 was issued by the Magistrate’s Court on an application by the Jharkhand Police despite the two cases to quash the FIR being pending.
The statement further noted, “On July 22, 2019, the High Court rejected the application filed by the five other defenders to quash the FIR. The position taken by the State at the court hearing on 30 July and the search and seizure warrant obtained against the human rights defenders frame the defenders as “absconders” without basis. To date, no warrant relating to this case has been served to the human rights defenders, who only came to know about the existence of the arrest warrant of June 19, 2019 through media reports on June 26, 2019.”
It said that the prosecution of the human rights defenders “forms part of a pattern of ongoing intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders who advocate for indigenous rights in India”. It added that prominent human rights defenders who advocate for Dalit and Adivasi rights Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson are currently in jail on “charges linking them to the violence that broke out after the Bhima Koregan commemoration in January 2018”.
It noted, “Several other human rights defenders, including Stan Swamy, had their houses and offices raided in connection with Bhima Koregan. Others have been falsely labelled as terrorist or Maoists by the police in media statements and are subjected to surveillance and harassment. On June 12, 2019, Stan Swamy’s home in Namkum, Ranchi city was raided by the Maharashtra Police, which they claimed was linked to the Bhima Koregan case.”
Expressing concerns over the harassment and intimidation, the statement said, “Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned about the harassment and intimidation of Stan Swamy, Aloka Kujur, Vinod Kumar and Rakesh Roshan Kiro and believes that the human rights defenders are solely being targeted because of their peaceful and legitimate human rights work.”
They have demanded:
1. Immediately revoke the arrest warrant and search and seizure warrant against Stan Swamy, Aloka Kujur, Vinod Kumar, and Rakesh Roshan Kiro;
2. Immediately drop all charges against Stan Swamy, Aloka Kujur, Vinod Kumar, Rakesh and Roshan Kiro and the 16 others named in the FIR filed on 26 July 2018;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in India including those defending indigenous rights, are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.