IAPL condemns the threat to arrest Justice H Suresh

IAPL Press Release

Originally carried on October 22, 2018 on countercurrents.org

IAPL condemns the threat issued by Shivaji Pawar, ACP, Maharashtra Police to arrest IAPL's President Justice Hosbet Suresh (Retd.) and the most alarming portrayal by him of IAPL as a frontal organization of CPI (Maoist). IAPL believes that such attacks on Judges and Human Right defenders which includes lawyers and organizations, require to be understood in the in the light of rising authoritarianism and fascist attacks in the country. It is the need of the hour for all organisations and individuals to come together and resist this onslaught collectively and to strongly condemn and resist this brazen attempt to intimidate Justice H. Suresh (Retd) and members of IAPL.

Justice H. Suresh, now in his late 80s, is a former judge of the Hon'ble Bombay High Court and is leading figure in Human Rights activism in India. After his brief but glorious judicial service, he led a number of Commissions of Inquiry that investigated violations of human rights. Justice Suresh investigated the Kaveri Riots (1991) in Bangalore, post-Babri Bombay riots (1992/1993) publishing their findings in a 1993 report titled 'The People's Verdict'. In August 1995, Justice Suresh issued “Forced Evictions – An Indian People's Tribunal Enquiry into the Brutal Demolitions of Pavement and Slum Dwellers' Homes”, a report documenting the use of brutal and indiscriminate force against slum dwellers in Mumbai. In 2000, joined by former Supreme Court judge Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, Justice Suresh held a two-day hearing into the slum clearances in which about 60,000 people had been evicted. The Inquiry covered both legal aspects of the clearances and the human impact.

Justice Suresh along with Justice P.B. Sawant, were members of Indian People's Tribunal (IPT) fact- finding team headed by Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer that went to in March/ April 2002 following the communal riots triggered by the Godhra train attack. The tribunal gathered 2,094 oral and written testimonies and met with many senior police officers and government officials. Findings were documented in their report “CrimeAgainstHumanity”.Thefact finding team visited the former state Home Minister Haren Pandya who informed the fact finding team on recorded audio tape, with request of anonymity, that then Chief Minister Narendra Modi had told the police not to restrain the rioting Hindus. Pandya was thereafter murdered in 2003. In reaction to the mass killings in Gujarat, Justice Suresh was one of the drafters of a proposed law “The Prevention of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity Act 2004”, in light of Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948 to which India is signatory. This would make Ministers and officials criminally responsible if they failed to exercise control in cases of mass violence against a group of citizens. In his 60 years of public life, Justice Suresh has always been vocal against draconian laws, state repression and judicial corruption.

IAPL strongly condemns this brazen attack on Justice H. Suresh which is not just an attack on an individual or an organisation but is a conspiracy to silence every Judicial officer who hold the Constitution and the obligations that fall on such obligations therein as paramount to their lives. Furthermore, this is a direct attack on the entire paradigm of the separation of the judiciary, a basic structure of the Constitution and our democracy. This attack on Justice H. Suresh is not an isolated incident of persecution and attack on judges who refuse to become executive puppets. The mysterious events leading to the death of Justice Loya gives us all sufficient cause to apprehend a further persecution of Justice H. Suresh. Furthermore, such statements are not only in a continuum of a conspiracy of vilification and intimidation but are deeply defamatory and serve to de-legitimize the invaluable legacy of Justice H. Suresh.

It has also come to our attention through various media reports (Times of India, Pune Mirror, Business Standard among others) that the State of Maharashtra while opposing the bail applications of IAPL's Office Bearers Advocate Surendra Gadling (General Secretary), Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj (Vice -President) and Advocate Arun Ferreira (Treasurer), argued that IAPL is a frontal organization of the banned CPI (Maoist) Party. Senior Advocates Sudeep Pasbola and Yug Mohit Chaudhry representing Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj respectively argued that IAPL's lawyer-members are carrying out the constitutional obligation of legally holding the State accountable for excesses amounting to violations of human rights of the citizens of this country. It is pertinent to note that such allegations on IAPL have not been made by the State prior to this hearing, either in the Romila Thapar's et al petition before the Supreme Court or anywhere else. IAPL outrightly rejects and strongly objects to such allegations levelled by the State of Maharashtra and supports the Office Bearers of IAPL. Further, IAPL condemns the attack on people's lawyer organisation and such brazen efforts to portray it as a frontal organization of CPI (Maoist). At the outset, it is explicitly clarified that IAPL is an independent organization and is the Indian Chapter of the International Association of People's Lawyer and has no direct or indirect affiliation to any political party. If IAPL has been at the front of anything it is in representing all democratic struggles in and outside the courts, providing defence to the marginalised, and speaking up against persecution of lawyers in India or elsewhere. These claims made by the State of Maharashtra are an attempt to silence rights lawyers, activists and organisations involved in human rights work and to create a hostile working environment for all such lawyers directly infringing on their fundamental rights to practice their profession.

IAPL takes this opportunity to clarify that it is a member an international organisation called International Association of People's Lawyer founded in 2004 to bring together lawyers involved in the legal support of collective struggles for peoples' rights and in situations of gross rights violations on a collective platform. The international organisation has recently released a report which brings to light that globally we are living in a scenario where in many countries of the world, it is dangerous to be a lawyer. This is especially true if the lawyer is attempting to protect the rights of the people against corporate or government interests or is exposing corruption. In a similar vein, IAPL and its members are presently being targeted and arrested for working towards the protection and furtherance of the constitutional and human rights of the people. It is a lawyers organisation and all members are human rights workers and rights advocate working for the preserving of the rights of the marginalised. IAPL's work is within and in furtherance to the four corners of the Constitution of India and is built towards ensuring the protection of fundamental human rights of all citizens of this country. Given the current political ecology of the country which is structured on the fascist ideology of silencing dissent and perpetrating violence rather than protecting the most marginalised and vulnerable the rights advocacy work of IAPL and the human rights work of all its members has most unjustly resulted in IAPL being categorised as the frontal organisation of the CPI (Maoist). It is ironic that the lawyer-members of IAPL and the organisation in itself are both being wrongfully imprisoned and persecuted for the very same crimes that they have in the recent few years exposed and brought to light.

The issues and agendas taken up by IAPL are sure to rattle the higher ups, especially those state forces against whom IAPL is constantly speaking up against and demanding accountability from by exposing their actions. It is under these circumstances and the existingpoliticalscenariothatIAPL is being labelled as the frontal organisation of the CPI (Maoist). Therefore, we appeal to all democratic rights organisations, lawyers' organisations and associations, bar associations, lawyers, activists, writers, and members of the public to come forward at this time and:

1. Condemn the persecution and victimisation of Justice H. Suresh and IAPL and stand in solidarity with Justice H. Suresh and IAPL and furthermore collectively resist and expose the fascist tendencies in the country.

2. Emphasise the work done by all the lawyer-members of Indian Association of People's Lawyers;

3. Stand against the systematic assault on rights advocacy and cause lawyering;

4. Demand an end to the persecution of members of Indian Association of People's Lawyers.

Justice H. Suresh, President, IAPL

M. Venkanna, Vice President, IAPL

D. Suresh Kumar, Joint Secretary, IAPL

Ankit Grewal, Joint Secretary, IAPL

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