India: Release Human Rights Defender Ajimuddin Sarkar Immediately
18 November 2015 6:49 pm

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(Bangkok, 18 November 2015) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) strongly condemns the arbitrary detention of Mr. Ajimuddin Sarkar. Mr. Sarkar is a human rights defender (HRD) based in Murshidabad district of West Bengal, India. FORUM-ASIA notes with concern that he has repeatedly faced arbitrary detention, police harassment and torture due to his human rights work.

Mr. Sarkar monitors human rights violations for Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), a FORUM-ASIA human rights member organisation. He is involved in reporting on human rights violations, including alleged extra judicial killings and torture by security forces in Murshidabad district. He was instrumental in filing a case about the custodial death of Mr. Rajib Molla. Due to his work as HRD, Mr. Sarkar is constantly intimidated and threatened.

On 22 September 2015, after visiting family members of a torture victim, Mr. Sarkar was allegedly abducted and illegally detained by police personnel from the Islampur police station. Mr. Sarkar was allegedly tortured and verbally abused during his arrest. He was booked under sections 376, 511, 323, 506 and 400 of the Indian Criminal Code and under Sections 8 and 12 of the Act for Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

MASUM believes these are trumped-up charges. Disappointingly, a bail petition seeking his release was rejected by the local court despite of health concerns. His health condition is reportedly deteriorating and there are concerns regarding ill-treatment in detention. Complaints to India’s National Human Rights Commission have not yielded any results yet.

FORUM-ASIA is gravely concerned that the police failed to provide a warrant for his arrest and also did not inform his family about his whereabouts. According to information received, Mr. Sarkar was denied medicine and food in custody and was also forced to walk barefoot.

Mr Sarkar has previously faced harassment and physical attacks in 2012, 2013 and 2014. He was threatened with “dire consequences” by a local man who asked him to stay away from the Rajob Molla case.

MASUM has repeatedly contacted the focal point on HRDs at the National Human Rights Commission of India for previous violations and was informed of actions taken and reports sought from related police and civil administration. However, no further information about the nature of action taken and its outcome have been received.

These attempts to stop HRDs from carrying out their work will have a detrimental effect on human rights in India. We remind the authorities of the obligation to guarantee that all HRDs are able to carry out their human rights activities without fear of reprisals, intimidation, threats and judicial harassment as is stipulated in the United Nations Declaration on HRDs.

FORUM-ASIA and MASUM urge the Government of West Bengal and India to immediately release Mr. Sarkar. Authorities should also undertake an independent investigation into his arbitrary detention and take action against those responsible.

Background

Previous harassment against employees of MASUM

In the past, other employees of MASUM have been the subject of harassment by law enforcement agencies and non-state actors. On 22 February 2015, Mr. Ajijul Haque, MASUM district human rights monitor, and enclave dweller activists were physically assaulted by a mob in the presence of police on their arrival at New Coochbehar station, West Bengal. The group was seeking to promote citizenship rights for enclave dwellers as part of MASUM’s recognition of International Mother Language Day on 21 February. Mr. Haque and two other activists were then arbitrarily detained by police and kept in police custody for eight hours under section 14 of the Foreigners Act. After his release, Mr. Haque was admitted to hospital with serious head injuries.

Similarly, on 27 July 2014 Mr. Mohar Ali Mondal of MASUM was also intimidated and physically abused by police officers when he attempted to file a complaint against cattle smugglers who had beaten up Mr. Kabirul Mondal that day. He was forced to wait for hours before finally registering the case. Upon attempting to leave the police station, however, he was physically abused and verbally threatened by sub inspector Mr. Bajlur Rahman for engaging in human rights work.

On 7 April 2012, Mr. Kirity Roy, Secretary of MASUM and National Convenor of Programme Against Custodial Torture &Impunity (PACTI) was arrested by the policemen of the Anti-Terrorist Cell of Kolkata and charged in connection with his involvement in organising a People’s Tribunal on Torture. His arrest was related to a case filed against him by the Anti-Terrorist Cell in 2008 for holding the People’s Tribunal on Torture, a project under the National Project on Preventing Torture in India.

About FORUM-ASIA:

FORUM-ASIA is a Bangkok-based regional human rights group with 47 member organisations in 16 countries across Asia. FORUM-ASIA has offices in Bangkok, Geneva, Jakarta and Kathmandu. FORUM-ASIA addresses key areas of human rights violations in the region, including freedoms of expressions, assembly and association, human rights defenders, and democratisation.

For further Inquiries, please contact:

– Raghu Menon, Human Rights Defenders Program Manager, FORUM-ASIA, raghu@forum-asia.org
– Anjuman Ara Begum, South Asia Programme Officer, FORUM-ASIA, anjuman@forum-asia.org