7 February 2014

India: Amnesty India welcomes bail for Prisoners of Conscience Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi

The Supreme Court’s ruling to grant bail to Prisoners of Conscience Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi who were under detention for over two years on false charges is a promising development, Amnesty International India said today.

The rights organisation also called upon the Government of Chhattisgarh to take note of this verdict and immediately and unconditionally drop all remaining charges against the two Adivasi activists.

The Supreme Court granted bail to the duo more than two years after they were arrested on what Amnesty considers are false charges levelled against them for criticizing the human rights violations of security forces in Chhattisgarh.

“This is a very encouraging development and we welcome the SupremeCourt’s verdict which gives hope for the human rights movement in Chhattisgarh,” said Shashikumar Velath, ProgrammesDirector at Amnesty International India.

“Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi were kept under detention merely tosilence their struggle for accountability and justice in Chhattisgarh.”

Soni Sori has been in detention since October 2011 and Lingaram Kodopi since September 2011. Soni Sori has been acquitted in five cases filed against her. Lingaram Kodopi has been acquitted in one of two cases filedagainst him.

One of the pending cases against both involves charges that they had acted as couriers and transferred funds from a corporate mining firm, Essar, to armed Maoists as “protection money” in September 2011 to ensure the firms unhindered operations.

On 7 July 2013, the Chhattisgarh High Court denied bail to Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi on the grounds of the “nature of allegation, quality of evidence and the seriousness of the offence.” A general manager at an Essar steel plant and a contractor for Essar, also arrested in the case and facing the same charges were released on bail on January 2012 and February 2012 respectively.

“The Chhattisgarh authorities should take a cue from this verdict and immediately correct the historic wrongs committed against these two Prisoners of Conscience by dropping all other charges,” Shashikumar said.

“This emblematic case should also serve as a reminder of the hundreds of other human rights violations that have been carried out in Chhattisgarh in the garb of fighting Maoist insurgency. The state and its agencies should revisit their policies in tackling dissent and human rights accountability.”

Soni Sori has alleged that she was tortured while she was in policecustody on 8 and 9 October 2011. In letters written to the Supreme Court, she said that police officials had stripped and sexually assaulted her and given her electric shocks. On 29 October 2011, a government hospital examined her under court order, and reported that two stones had been inserted in her vagina and one in her rectum, and that she had annular tears in her spine.

The senior police official who Soni Sori said had ordered and supervised her torture was conferred a gallantry award by the President of India in January 2012.

On 12 November 2013, the Supreme Court had granted the duo interim bail till their bail hearing was completed. In September 2013, Amnesty International India had submitted a petition supported by over 10,000 people to Chief Minister Raman Singh seeking the immediate and unconditional release of Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi.

Background Information

Soni Sori, a 36 year old school-teacher and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi, a 26-year old journalist, were critical of human rights violations committed both by security forces and armed Maoists in Chhattisgarh.

In April 2010, at a public hearing in Delhi, Lingaram Kodopi detailed violations committed by security forces against Adivasis in Chhattisgarh, following which the state police announced that he was the prime suspect in an armed Maoist attack on a local Congress party leader’s residence.

In March 2011, Lingaram Kodopi also highlighted the killing of threeAdivasis by security forces during a confrontation in three villages. During the attack, two persons went missing and at least five women were sexually assaulted. Lingaram Kodopi was eventually arrested in September 2011 on false charges of aiding armed Maoists.

Soni Sori’s huband, Anil Futane, was arrested in 2011 for allegedlyplanning and executing an attack on a local Congress party leader. He was acquitted on 1 May 2013, after spending three years in jail, during which time he was allegedly tortured. He died on 2 August 2013. Soni Sori was denied temporary release on bail to perform her husband’s last rites.

Soni Sori has been acquitted in five cases against her, and LingaramKodopi in one of the two cases against him.

In 2012, Sori was acquitted in two cases in which she was accused ofattacking a police station in Kuakonda and blowing up a government office in Kuakonda in 2010.

In February 2013, a trial court acquitted her of being involved in anattack on a police team near an Essar plant in Kirandul, and of being part of a Maoist armed group team which attempted to blow up trucks belonging to Essar.

In early May 2013, a trial court acquitted Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopiand 15 other persons accused of conspiring and participating in the attack against a local Congress party leader at Nakulnar in Chhattisgarh in July 2010.

In late May, another court granted Soni Sori bail in a case in whichpolice claim she had participated in the torching of vehicles in Nerli Ghat in September 2010.

A number of social and political activists and human rights defenders in Chhattisgarh have faced false charges and imprisonment for highlighting the human rights situation in the state. Among them are Binayak Sen of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, and Kartam Joga, an Adivasi leader of the Communist Party of India, both declared as Prisoners of Conscience by AmnestyInternational.

Binayak Sen spent more than two years in prison and was released on bail by India’s Supreme Court in April 2011 afte