We the undersigned strongly condemn the unreasonable and unjust restrictions imposed on fundamental freedoms by the Chhattisgarh state under the garb of fighting naxalism. Since her return to Chhattisgarh, after being released on bail by the Supreme Court, Human Rights Defender Soni Sori has been subject to constant harassment by the Chhattisgarh state. Soni Sori, presently a member of the Aam Admi Party is one of the few people in the region who have not shied away questioning the arbitrary practices of the state. Since her return to Chhattisgarh, Soni has worked tirelessly for the betterment of the people. She has not shied from questioning the veracity of alleged encounters of the police, surrenders and the casual attitude of the police in the case of human trafficking. Due to this she has been subject to harassment and constant warnings to stop questioning the police and threatened with dire consequences if she continues.
On 10th October 2014, a crew from a German television channel based out of Delhi, comprising of one German national and four Indians, had come to interview Soni to document her struggles with a special focus on the custodial torture she was subjected to. Soni took them to her village at Palnar where they met the police station in-charge and even had a small conversation with him wherein the members of the team were introduced. After the completion of the interview the team left for Jagdalpur and Soni went to her home in Geedam. During the period of the interview one of her colleagues at the Aam Admi Party kept receiving phone calls from the local police enquiring about the whereabouts of Soni. In the evening around 8:30 PM, one woman and several men in plain clothes barged uninvited into the house of Soni Sori and started grilling her regarding the identity of the video team. It is pertinent to note that Soni’s household is an all woman household along with three of her children the eldest of whom is only 13 and the youngest is just 8. While Soni did not recognize all of them she did recognize a few of them as members of the local police of Geedam. Some of the members kept questioning Soni, few of the others barged into the other rooms including the bathroom and started searching and looking around. Despite Soni’s demands asking them to leave her house they continued with the questioning. Furthermore, these persons refused to answer all questions of Soni regarding their identity, but continued their questions regarding the crew. The team then went on to state that Soni should have immediately informed the police regarding the coming of the team and in future she should inform them about any people visiting her and provide details regarding the purpose of the visit. By the time the team left, Soni’s family was quite shaken up, especially her children, as they had thought that the team had come to once again arrest Soni and put her in jail. Previously also Soni was subjected to a barrage of questions when a couple of filmmakers had come to document her election story.
After this incident Soni filed a complaint with the Superintendent of Police regarding the harassment and illegal intrusion by the police into her place of residence at night. The Superintendent assured to take action on the case. However, the very next day to the filing of the complaint, a local newspaper carried a report claiming that ‘a foreign national’had come to Bastar to meet the local leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and went on to imply that Soni Sori had assisted in organizing these meetings. The report also questioned the identity of the German National as a journalist by referring to him as an ‘alleged journalist.’ All these allegations are completely baseless and a grave violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined under the Constitution. No one from the team either met any members of the CPI(Maoist) or even intended to meet any Maoist. All the journalists are from ‘ARD First German TV’ and their names including that of the German National Gabor Halasz are included in the list of journalists accredited by PIB. The journalists including Mr Gabor after completing their interview with Soni Sori left for Raipur and did not meet anyone in the forest. Moreover, at no point did the team evade the local police. In Raipur the team met ADG Naxal Ops R.K. Vij on 11th October and informed him of the purpose of their meeting with Soni Sori and the reasons for it.
The growing trend of arbitrary and unwarranted restrictions on the basic freedoms supplemented with the impunity of the security forces threatens the very foundations of democracy. The constant threats and restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of Soni Sori have now made her apprehensive for her safety not only for herself but also for her children. There is no requirement in Soni Sori’s bail condition that she has to provide immediate information to the police about any people who come to meet her. Such demands are arbitrary and in complete violation of her fundamental rights. Furthermore, by hindering the media and placing unreasonable obstructions on the freedoms of the press, which is of extreme importance in a conflict zone, the avenues to seek justice for Human Rights Defenders like Soni Sori become even more limited. We demand that the Chhattisgarh State effectively carry out its obligation to protect Human Right Defenders like Soni Sori and others from arbitrary action, threats and pressure as a consequence of their activities in the promotion and protection of human rights. We also urge human rights institutions like the NHRC and SHRC to extend their support.
On behalf of –
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (http://wssnet.org/)
Narmada Bachao Andolan, Khandwa
Duni Roy, Hazards Centre
Xavier Dias, Khan Kaneej Aur ADHIKAR
Dr. Reena Mary George
Ajmal Khan, TISS Mumbai
Jyoti Punwani, Freelance Journalist, Mumbai
Sukla Sen, EKTA (Committee for Communal Amity), Mumbai