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PUCL 1 January , 2006

Report was released at a Press Conference in Kolkata Press Club on 30 December

State repression on political opposition in West Bengal

Report of fact finding by a team of human rights, democratic rights and civil liberties organisations (December 27 -30, 2005)

Background
From the middle of 2005 several leading political figures belonging to pposition political groups and parties, specially those belonging to CPI (Maoist) and their frontal organisations were arrested by the West Bengal police. None of those arrested had any specific case registered against them or was named in any FIR  lodged at any police stations. This is in continuation with the police onslaught on political opposition going on in the state, which intensified since the middle of 2002 as a result of which
about 3000 opposition political workers and common people were
arrested.

In this context several Human Rights, Democratic Rights and Civil Liberties organisations from allover India decided to conduct a Fact finding on the nature of arrests, conditions of the political prisoners in WB Jails and detention centers. Accordingly nine journalists, lawyers and Human Rights
activists from seven such organisations visited two WB jails and three places of arrests/police raids in West Midnapore, Nadia and Hooghly Districts.

Programme of the team
The team was able to meet four UT prisoners lodged in Jhargram Upa Sangsodhanagar (sub Jail) and heard the accounts of their arrests and treatment at the hands of police and in the jails.

Interestingly the District police authorities recorded the whole proceedings on video and several media persons were also present. While the team was still appreciating the openness exhibited by the Jhargram Sub-Jail authorities, it received a jolt when the Nadia District Jail authorities at Krishnangore refused to allow the team to meet any of the several political prisoners lodged there. After an hour's wait at the jail gates, the team was told that as per instructions of the higher authorities' the jail authorities are unable to allow the team to meet any prisoner. The team visited the place at Madrasi Lines, Konnagar, Hooghly District from where Shri Sushil Ray (described by the police as a Polit Bureau Member) and Patitpaban Halder (described by the
police as State Committee Secretary) of the CPI (Maoist) were arrested. The team also visited two village-Kathgora in Tehatta Subdivision, Nadia District from where Shri Chandi Sarkar (described by the police as a leader of the Kishan Majdur Sangram Samity was arrested and village Mathurapur in the same area where police atrocities are going on for the last several months. At those two places several hundred people assembled on hearing the news of the teams visit to narrate and complain about police atrocities. Due to
lack of time the team could not give a patient hearing to all those assembled.
The team also talked to the lawyers defending Sushil Ray and others in Jhargram SDJM Court.

Findings and observations
1. Role of the police while conducting arrests: In all the cases looked into by the team, the police flouted all legal provisions and Supreme Court  directives.

(i) Shri Sushil Ray and Shri Patitpaban Halder were arrested at about
7.30 AM on 21 May, 2005 while they boarded a Rickshaw emerging from a hutment of Madrasi Lines, PS Uttarpara, Hooghly. They were pounced upon by four men in mufti and forced into a waiting car.

The happenings were corroborated by local people, whom the team met on
27 December night and who declined to identify themselves for obvious reasons. Immediately both were blindfolded and after over twelve hours journey Shri Ray's blindfolds were removed, when he found himself at a BSF camp in a Jungle area.  In the midway Shri Halder was removed to another car, keeping blindfolded. While keeping blindfolded both were continually interrogated by many people.

At the BSF camp Shri Ray was accused to be an ISI agent. They were produced before the SDJM, Jhargram on 24 May as accused in Belpahari PS FIR No. 28/05 dated 23.5.05 u/s 120B/121A/122/123/124A showing them to have been arrested from village Tamajuri in Belpahari PS on 23.5.05 at 9.45 PM.

(ii) Shri Santosh Debnath was arrested on 29 May from a street at Konnagar at 2 PM. He was similarly blindfolded and taken to many places and finally on 2 June produced before the SDJM, Jhargram as accused in the above case. The FIR submitted by the police on 24 May did not name Santosh Debnath among the 11 named accused.

(iii) Sk. Jakir Hossain said that he was 'kidnapped' on 22 June at 11 AM from the Sovabazar Crossing, Kolkata while he was about to board a Bus.  He too was forced into a car, blindfolded and taken to a forest. He too was produced before the SDJM three days later. In all the above cases with some exceptions in the case of Chandi Sarkar

The police blatantly lied about the date of arrest, place of arrest and situation of  arrest

All the arrested persons were kept in illegal detention for three to five days and were not produced before a judicial officer within 24 hours of arrest as per rules and laws.

No Memo of arrests were prepared, relatives were not informed about the arrests and no medical test was conducted as per rules and laws.

2. Interrogation and treatment while in police custody : From 21 May to 24 May before producing at the Court and again from 24 May AN to 6 June during police custody--almost for 16 days Shri Ray was kept blindfolded except for one or one and half hours a day. While keeping blindfolded he was interrogated day and night and was not allowed to sleep. A battery of senior officers from all over WB, Jharkhand, Delhi, Orissa and probably from other
states conducted the interrogation at the Special Control Room at the
office of the SP, Midnapore. The IG from Jharkhand while interrogating threatened him to keep him behind the bars for the rest of his life. Shri Ray said that he apprehends to be killed by the Jharkhand police. Shri Ray said that though the police did not assault him physically, the whole 16 days of police custody is a nightmare of physical and mental torture and all the senior police officers including SP, Midnapore took part in this torture.

Shri Halder, Shri Debnath and Sk Hossain narrated their similar experiences of treatment at the custody. In addition all three were brutally assaulted all along. In addition to kicks, blows and verbal abuses time to time during interrogation they were given the 'cherai' treatment in which legs of the victim are stretched side ways by two assaulters in a straight line so as to inflict
unbearable pain at the groin and anal areas.

The team was unable to meet Chandi Sarkar and others lodged in Nadia
Dist. Jail, but learned from Mr. Sarkar's wife Sm Mahamaya Sarkar and relatives and friends of the others that they too were severely assaulted during police custody. Shri Sarkar alleged before the SDJM, Krishnanagore on 2 Oct when he was produced before him that he was assaulted in the face with shoes by the Nadia SP Rajsekharan himself.

The police did not abide by the legal stipulations of health examination by an authorised physician immediately after taking a person in custody. Neither the legally binding provisions of health checkup every 48 hours during police custody were adhered to. As a result Shri Ray developed a high blood pressure and had to be transferred to the Jail Hospital and then to the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata immediately after the end of the police custody.

They were not allowed to avail legal assistance during police custody as per rules.

3. Jail Custody: All the four persons, whom the team met at Jhargram Sub-Jail complained about subhuman living conditions in the Jails. The food is substandard both in quality and quantity and even below the standards set as per Jail manuals-as a result all of them lost w eight to the tune of 2 Kg to 7 Kg during their six months' stay. Shri Ray developed an ischemic heart as a result of treatment meted out in the police custody. Chandi Sarkar, lodged in Nadia District Jail has Piles and gastrities. It is reported however that as per the advice of the Jail doctor, he is being provided with spiceless boiled food.

It is amazing to learn that though the prisoners in the Jhargram sub-jail get a daily news paper, they get it only after censoring and cutting out some of the news items. It is beyond the understanding of the team, what objections the Govt. could legally have against items published in National dailies.

All these persons satisfy the conditions laid down in sections 24 (1) (g), and 24 (2) (vi) of the West Bengal Correctional Services Act 1992 to be classified as political prisoner. The indiscriminate slapping of sections relating to sedition and conspiracy against many arrested  persons also are clear indicative of the political nature of the allegations against them. Most of
these sections are included in Chapter VI of the IPC and the explanation a(1) Section 24 of the West Bengal Correctional Services Act specifically mentions that 'an offence coming within the purview of Chapter VI of the IPC  shall always be deemed as a political offence.'  It is deplorable that the State Govt. is shying away from its minimum responsibility of recognising its political opposition.

4. The Cases:
The team have gone through the FIR, Chargesheet, seizure lists in respect of Belpahari PS case No. 28/05 dated 23.5.05 (GR No. 212/05) and the FIR of Kotwali PS case No. 333/05 dated 2.10.2005. All these papers bear evidences of pathetic concoction. The lawyers defending the prisoners in Jhargram Court pointed out that as per seizure lists submitted by the police in the court, the police seized series of articles necessary to build up a case against the persons from a locked room at 199 Battala By Lane, PS
Uttarpara. On 1 June 2005 the police searched the locked room eight
times at 12-05 hrs, 12-25 hrs, 13-35 hrs, 13-45 hrs, 2-05 PM, 14-15 hrs, 14-20 hrs and 15-05 hrs. Each time the police some articles relevant to the case and seized them. The house at which Chandi Sarkar was staying in village Kathgora in Nadia was searched during his arrest on 23 September 2005. In mid December the police took away two pillows from the house saying that they are needed for the case. It was later learned that the pillows were
made exhibit in the case against him claiming that a bullet was found
in one of the them.

Shri Ray, Shri Halder, Shri Debnath and Sk Hossain informed that they had nothing incriminating while they were picked up from roads and nothing incriminating was seized from their persons, neither it was possible for them to have the seizure listed articles with them when they were arrested. It is learned that immediately after Shri Ray and Shri Halder's arrest on 21 May, the police began stacking arms/money/photographs etc in the above house and with much fanfare and before the full media glare stazed a drama of search and seizure at the room at Uttarpara on 1 June 05.  The defence lawyers cited several other indications of concoctions in the seizure lists. It will not be prudent at this juncture to dwell upon all of them.

The charges against Shri Ray and others are essentially of sedition and conspiracy against state. As per newspaper reports the top police brass of the state intelligence were entrusted with the job of building up a full-proof case against them The defence lawyers already complained to the court on 17 Dec 05 that the original chargesheet submitted to the court on 20.8.05 has already been tampered with. The certified photo copy of the Chargesheet and its annexure given by the court to the defendants do not tally with that kept in the court file, clearly indicating fabrication and tampering.

Shri Chandi Sarkar and fifty others are implicated in Kotwali PS case No. 333/05 dated 2.10.2005, which is based solely on a purported confessional statement of Sri Sarkar made in police custody. According to laws of the country, statements extracted in police custody cannot be accepted as evidence. The police preferred to use such a statement to book 50 odd people, including several Human Rights activists and several political activists belonging to the non-CPI(M) political strata.

5. Government response:
It was pointed out to us that the government failed to respond to innumerous complaints regarding illegal police practices during and after arrests, custodial torture and other related matters.

The team have gone through several such well documented memoranda. The state government even declined to make public the report of the Arun Mishra Commission. This commission was appointed in the face of widespread protests from the people and eminent citizens to enquire into allegations of illegal activities of the police resulting in the death of a Central Govt officer Avijit Sinha in July 2003.

The team also learned that the Chief Minister (who also holds the Home portfolio) refused to meet Human Rights Organisations, Bandi Mukti Committee and even a group of eminent intellectuals on  the issue.

On behalf of the team a letter was sent to the Principal Secretary, Jails, Govt. of WB and IG of Prisons, Govt. of WB requesting them to permit the team to meet political prisoners lodge in Jhargram Sub-Jail and Nadia Dist Jail. No response to the letter was given and the team was refused permission to meet Chandi Sarkar and four others lodged in  Nadia Dist. Jail after keeping them waiting for more than an hour. The team sought the intervention of the Minister of Jails over the phone, who declined. We learned from news paper reports that within the last one month while a congress MP (Adhir Choudhury) and a CPI(M) minister (Narayan Biswas) were sent to Judicial Custody by the courts for criminal offences, they held regular Darvars, feasts and conferences inside the Jails. The refusal of the govt to allow this team to meet the prisoners at the Nadia Jail is highly discriminatory and lacks transparency.

6. Demands and recommendations:

  1. The state Government must stop all repressive measures against
    political activiists and organisations.
  2. Fictitious cases registered against political activists and common
    people should be withdrawn and all such persons be released
    immediately.

  3. All persons detained in any form for political activities, should
    be treated as political prisoners as per the provisions of sections 24 (1) (g), and 24 (2) (vi) of the West Bengal Correctional Services Act 1992. Such persons should be provided with appropriate facilities for their study and academic work while in Jail

  4. The police and other law enforcing agencies must act as per law and
    stop violation of rights of a person  during and after arrest. All complaints of violation of such righhts as laid down in the Apex court judgement dated 18.12.1996 in D.K.Basu v WB Govt case (WP No.592/1987)  shall have to be enquired and the violators should be dealt with as per law. In particular the team calls upon the state govt to institute an impartial commission to enquire into the complaints of torture, maltreatment and illegal detention of Sushil Ray and others asmentioned in this report to prove its transparency and commitment to the rule of law.

  5. The practice of Badli arrests, detention in the name of enquiry and
    harassment of relatives and friends of opposition political activists and villagers should stop.

Amitadyuti Kumar, Rajkishore Singh
Kolkata  30 December 2005                                        

On
behalf of the fact finding team:
Rajkishore Singh, Editor, Janabadi Mukti Marg, Bihar

Tridib Ghosh, Vice-President, People'sUnion for Civil Liberties, Jharkhand.

Mithilesh Kumar, National Vice- President Indian Association of Peoples Lawyers, Delhi

Tara Singh, Lok Sangram Manch, Punjab

Dandapani Mohanti, Daman Pratirodh Manch, Orissa

Balbir Singh Saini, Janadhikar Manch, Haryana

.Ajay, Janadhikar Manch, Haryana

Tapas Chakrabarty, Vice President, Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), West Bengal

Amitadyuti Kumar, Vice President, APDR, West Bengal

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