INDIA: District Magistrate orders the arrest of a human rights defender
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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME
12 May 2006
UA-156-2006: INDIA: District Magistrate orders the arrest of a human rights defender
INDIA: Illegal detention; arbitrary arrest; forced confession; breakdown of rule of law
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from our local partner, People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), regarding the illegal arrest and detention of Mr. Santhosh Patel, a staff member of PVCHR, on 10 May 2006. Mr. Santhosh was meeting the District Magistrate Mr. Rajiv Agarwal to lodge a complaint against a Thahasildar (a district officer), who was allegedly forcing victims of starvation and malnourishment of Belwa village to give statements in favour of the district administration.
Mr. Santhosh is a human rights activist working for PVCHR in Uttar Pradesh, India and is based in Belwa village. Belwa village, a remote village within the Varanasi district faces acute poverty which is due to the exploitation of the lower caste community by the feudal landlords. The AHRC in the past has issued urgent appeals relating to cases from Belwa. Please see UA-138-2005; UP-95-2005; UP-100-2005; UP-166-2005 & UA-068-2006. It is reported that PVCHR had filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of India [petition number 41875/24/2005-2006] on 3 March 2006 alleging that owing to the lack of action by government agencies, the residents of Belwa village are suffering from various problems, of which starvation and acute malnutrition is of particular concern. The complaint was filed by Santhosh through PVCHR.
Meanwhile due to the wide publicity of issues like caste discrimination, exploitation of the poor and acute poverty reported from Belwa, there were a lot of inquires with the government agencies expressing concern about the residents of Belwa. There were several inquires from various agencies of the United Nations and other regional and international human rights groups regarding Belwa. It is also reported that owing to the immense pressure, the state government of Uttar Pradesh recently issued a circular which states that in each case of human rights violation, particularly on hunger and starvation related issues, the victim must be paid a sum of Rs. 1000/- (USD 23) on report of the case and for failure of follow up the Village Secretary, the Block Development Officer and the District Magistrate would be held responsible for dereliction of duty. When problems from Belwa made the daily news, the village suddenly saw a series of visits by many important persons for the first time in their history. One such visitor was Ms. Sayeed Hameed, a member of the Planning Commission.
It was at this time that on receipt of the complaint filed by Santhosh through PVCHR at the National Human Rights Commission, the Commission ordered an inquiry. In response, the state administration responded through a directive of the District Magistrate asking the local Tahasildar, Mr. Mohan Ram of Pindara Tahasil (a small division of the district) to visit Belwa and to force the villagers to give statements contrary to the actual situation. The Tahasildar visited Belwa in the first week of May and started forcing residents, of whom a large number are illiterate, to give thumb impressions on pieces of plain paper. Fearing that the district officer would later misuse these blank papers with signatures, Santhosh intervened and asked Mr. Mohan Ram why he was gathering the thumb impressions from the villagers. He also asked him to release the money according to the government order to the victims. At this point the officer became angry with Santhosh and soon after left.
Meanwhile the state government also issued 11 ‘Andyodaya cards’ (government permit for receiving rationed articles through the ration shop or co-operative shop) to the villagers. However, when the villagers went to the local co-operative managed by Mr. Ramesh Singh, the shopkeeper failed to provide any rationed articles and said that items such as rice, sugar and kerosene were out of stock. It is alleged that the articles were sold on the black market for a higher price.
It is regarding these matters that Santhosh, who is physically handicapped and from a lower caste community of Belwa, went to meet the District Magistrate on May 10. On this day the District Magistrate was holding a meeting with local people to hear their complaints. However, when Santhosh tried to file his petition at the meeting the District Magistrate said that he is of the opinion that Santhosh and his organisation is spreading false information about Belwa and ordered a police officer present at the meeting to take Santhosh into custody. Santhosh protested and asked on what grounds the magistrate was detaining him. At this point the officer shouted at Santhosh saying that he need not teach the officer the law. Upon arrest Santhosh was taken to Shivapur police station. Once at the police station the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) was contacted by the District Magistrate and the Magistrate ordered over the phone that the OIC register a case against Santhosh. It is alleged that the OIC refused to take the order over the phone and replied to the Magistrate that since Santhosh is a human rights activist and since he had done no wrong unless the Magistrate gave in writing his request for Santhosh’s arrest, they would not register a case against Santhosh. However, the police officer was told by the Magistrate to force Santhosh to sign a paper upon which the police are alleged to have later written down a confession statement, where Santhosh is said to have confessed to causing disruption in the meeting at the District Magistrate’s office.
Upon learning of the arrest, the Secretary of PVCHR met the District Magistrate and inquired as to why one of their staff members was being held in detention. The District Magistrate responded that since the work of PVCHR is causing embarrassment to the District Administration and the Government of India internationally, it can no longer be permitted for any person to engage in such shaming activities. The Magistrate also accused PVCHR and Santhosh in particular of informing people outside of the country about the ‘bad’ situation in certain places in India. The Magistrate said it is to prevent such instances from recurring that he ordered the arrest of Santhosh. However, Santhosh was released within four to five hours and no case was registered against him.
The Indian law prohibits arbitrary detention. At the time of arrest every person is entitled to know the reason for arrest, place where the person would be detained and the law mandates the detaining officer to inform the detainee’s relatives or a friend regarding the arrest. However, in this case the Magistrate, whose responsibility it is to punish those who break the law, did himself breach the law.
The AHRC and PVCHR have stated in the past that it is this attitude of local officers which leads to many human rights violations in India. When instances of human rights violations are exposed through procedures like the urgent appeals programme, the immediate response by the state as well as district administration is to silence the victims and witnesses by threat or intimidation. Local officers also routinely receive help from anti-social elements in doing this.
In this particular case the act of the Magistrate as well as the Tahasildar is highly unacceptable since these are officers enjoying quasi judicial powers within the domestic legal framework and are also officers with some power over the law enforcement agencies like the police.
Please send a letter to the relevant authorities seeking for an immediate and effective investigation into the incident, and calling for the perpetrators to be prosecuted. The AHRC also calls for a strong stance to be taken against crimes committed by police officers and on investigation and prosecution of such cases. Please write in particular to the District Magistrate Mr. Rajiv Agarwal
Mr. Rajiv Agarwal
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
Fax: 91 5422501450
Dear Mr. Rajiv Agarwal,
INDIA: District Magistrate detains human rights activist for working on human rights in Varanasi District of Uttar Pradesh state
Name of victim: Mr. Santhosh Patel, staff of People’s Vigilance Committee for Human Rights, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India
Name alleged perpetrator: Mr. Rajiv Agarwal, Distrcit Magistrate, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
Date of incident: 11 May 2006
Place of incident: District Magistrate’s Office, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
I write to strongly condemn the arrest and detention of Mr. Santhosh Patel, a human rights activist working for the People’s Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVCHR) in Varanasi, India. I am appalled to learn that as the officer responsible for ensuring law and order in the district it was in fact you who ordered the arrest of Mr Patel, simply because he is reporting cases of human rights violations in the state and you wished to silence him. I am also informed that you required the police to register a false case against Mr. Santhosh, which the local police refused to do.
I am informed that your office is aware that Belwa village is facing acute problems related to poverty, starvation and malnourishment along with a complete breakdown of the rule of law. I am also informed that there are feudal landlords who are exploiting the situation in connivance with government agents.
I also understand that your office has been under pressure to sort out problems reported from Belwa and that the National Human Rights Commission of India has initiated action on a complaint filed by Mr. Santhosh. I am aware that one of your subordinate officers, Mr. Mohan Ram, the Tahasildar of Pindura Tahasil visited Belwa village and forced residents to sign plain pieces of paper. This, it is believed, was an attempt under your instruction to forge documents to be presented before the National Human Rights Commission.
I therefore urge you to immediately abstain from any further acts of a similar nature and on the contrary, facilitate a creative dialogue between victims of human rights violations and the officers within the district administration, including yourself, so as to address the concerns of the ordinary people, whom you are duty bound to serve.
I also urge you to accept the mistake that you have committed and publicly applogise to Mr. Santhosh for illegally detaining him.
PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:
1. Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh
Chief Minister's Secretariat
Fax: + 91 52 2223 0002 / 2223 9234
2. Justice A.P. Mishra
Uttar Pradesh Human Rights Commission
6-A Kalidass Marg
Tel: + 91 52 2272 6742
Fax: + 91 52 2272 6743
3. Shri Justice A. S. Anand
National Human Rights Commission of India
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
Tel: + 91 11 23074448
4. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
Government of India
5th Floor, Loknayak Bhawan
New Delhi 110003
Tel: + 91 11 2462 0435
Fax: + 91 11 2462 5378
5. Ms. Hina Jilani
Special Representative of the Secretary General for human rights defenders
Att: Ben Majekodunmi
1211 Geneva 10,
Tel: + 41 22 917 93 88
Fax: + 41 22 917 9006
6. Ms. Leila ZERROUGUI
Chairperson, The UN Working Group on arbitrary detention
1211 Geneva 10,
Tel: + 41 22 917 93 88
Fax: + 41 22 917 9006
7. Mr. Doudou DIÈNE
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
1211 Geneva 10,
Tel: + 41 22 917 93 88
Fax: + 41 22 917 9006
8. Mr. Jean Zeigler
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066, OHCHR, Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
SWITZERLANDTel: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 9179010
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (firstname.lastname@example.org)