IDSN condemns the arrest of five human rights defenders in Tamil Nadu, India. A number of organisations, including Amnesty International, have addressed this case, which also involves a close associate of IDSN.
Five human rights activists were arrested on false charges on 15 August at Veeravanallur police station, Tamil Nadu, while investigating a torture case.
The activists from the Dalit Foundation – four of whom are themselves Dalits – were taking part in a training programme on Dalit human rights monitoring, organised by the human rights organisation People’s Watch. The human rights defenders had gone to the police station to enquire about the lack of investigation in the torture of Suresh, a Dalit youth, allegedly by an officer serving at the same station.
The activists, three women and two men aged 22 to 40, are: Bharathi Pillai, Niharga Priya, Sudha, Gnana Diraviam and Anandan. Furthermore, Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director of People’s Watch, has been identified as an “absconding accused” in the same case. Henri Tiphagne is a close associate of IDSN.
The charges against the group include impersonating a public servant, cheating by impersonation and criminal intimidation. The charges are obviously false, and the activists had informed the police in advance that they intended to visit the station as part of a fact finding exercise.
The arrests have been widely condemned. In a public statement, Amnesty International has expressed concern that the charges are politically motivated and has called on the Tamil Nadu government to drop the false charges and immediately release the five persons.
The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR), a coalition of human rights groups, of which Henri Tiphagne is a member, considers the arrests illegal and the charges trumped-up. Miloon Kothari, Convenor of WGHR, made the following comment:
“Alarmingly such an incident is yet another instance of the hostile climate faced by human rights defenders across the country. The state must be held accountable for such abuses of power and for the deliberate assault on everybody’s right to defend human rights.”
IDSN strongly condemns the arrest of the human rights defenders on obviously false charges. The case is very alarming and must be addressed immediately by the relevant Indian authorities. Unfortunately, the case must be viewed both in the context of the lack of protective mechanisms for human rights defenders as well as a widespread culture of impunity for crimes and acts of discrimination committed against Dalits.
The IDSN secretariat has written to the Indian authorities, including the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, Justice Shri K.G. Balakrishnan, and urged them to withdraw the case. Case material has also been submitted to the Human Rights Unit of the EU Council.