Statements demanding the release of Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and others

January 14, 2012

Press Release: Women’s groups stopped from meeting Soni Sori in Raipur

DEMAND IMMEDIATE ACTION ON PERPETRATORS OF CUSTODIAL VIOLENCE ON SONI SORI

A team of women representing various women’s groups from across the country were in Raipur on 12-13th January to meet Ms. Soni Sori, currently lodged in Raipur Central Jail. Ms Sori is a tribal school teacher who has been hounded by the Chhattisgarh Police as a Maoist conduit. She was arrested in October 2011 and was brutally assaulted sexually in police custody on the night of 8-9th October.

Even after applying for permission as per procedure and repeated requests to various concerned officials on 12th, the women were denied permission to meet her, despite already having an assurance from the Principal Secretary, Mr. Baijendra Kumar, during his visit to Delhi in October. For two whole days the team was shuttled from one authority to the other and back, with each and every official avoiding taking a decision or give in writing any denial or reasons for it. Finally, permission was denied on 13th citing “security” concerns. We feel that such alleged `security’ concerns are being used as a smokescreen to prevent us from meeting her, and this constitutes a violation of Soni’s rights as a prisoner. Further, we fail to understand what security threats an all women’s team, following all proper procedures and which consented to meet her in presence of the jail authorities, poses to the jail. Even the State Human Rights Commission, when approached by the team, refused to take cognizance of the matter, stating that denial of access to an undertrial does not constitute any violation of human rights of the undertrial.

The team expresses deep anguish and horror at the brutal physical and sexual torture she was subjected to when in police custody, which included giving her electric shocks, stripping her and inserting foreign objects into private parts. This torture was carried out under the supervision of a senior police official, despite directive from the Delhi High Court to the Chhattisgarh police to ensure her safety. The medical report of Kolkata NRS Medical College and Hospital, where stones were recovered from her private parts, confirms the brutal sexual assault.

We feel that Soni Sori`s case is of national importance and urgency for several reasons. Firstly, such barbaric behaviour by police had been
foreseen even before Ms. Sori was taken into custody and had been clearly placed before the Sessions Court and High Court in Delhi, when her custody was sought by the Chhattisgarh police. While such custodial torture is a blatant violation and a matter of concern, *that it can happen despite judicial scrutiny and monitoring is deeply disturbing and of even greater concern.* Secondly, this is one of the rare cases where the allegations have been substantiated by incontrovertible evidence in the form of an independent medical report conducted under the orders of the Supreme Court. Yet no action has been taken. Despite the seriousness of these violations, the Chhattisgarh authorities have not even instituted an enquiry, let alone taking action against the officials concerned. In addition, it is also preventing any attempts from independent women’s groups to meet with her.

Given the brutal treatment meted out to Soni Sori, and the overall situation of conflict and repression prevailing in Chhattisgarh, we are
deeply concerned about the situation of women, in general, and specifically of other women prisoners in Chhattisgarh. Speaking in the larger context efforts to get information by human rights activists about under trails in such areas has unsuccessful.

We demand immediate suspension of the officers concerned pending enquiry. Free access of individuals and groups to meet with Soni Sori and her rights as an under trail should be upheld.

The members of the team that visited Raipur consisted members from Saheli, Delhi; Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), Delhi; WSS Orissa and Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch, Bhopal.

Press note released on behalf of women’s groups all across the country.

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Press Conference in Bangalore: End custodial torture and sexual assault; Free Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi

The undersigned groups from Karnataka State strongly condemn the custodial sexual assault and torture of Soni Sori, an Adivasi school teacher from the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. A recent medical examination ordered by the Supreme Court at NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkatta found stones inserted in her vagina and rectum1. Medical reports submitted to the court three days after her arrest show she sustained a contusion in the occipital region of her head caused by a “hard and blunt object”, and that she had tenderness in the sacrum of her back, and blackened fingers – the latter being a classic sign of electrocution2,3. In a recent letter to the Supreme Court, she has stated in clear terms that she had been stripped, electrocuted and tortured4. The evidence points to her having been tortured in custody in complete violation of her constitutional rights and any standard of decency.

Due process has been violated in the case of Soni Sori repeatedly. When these injuries prevented Soni from being produced before a magistrate, an order converting her police custody into extended judicial custody was still signed by Additional District Judge Yogita Wasik without her presence – which is completely illegal2,5. She was outside the court in a vehicle and never left it. She was chained to the bed while undergoing treatment for her injuries in a Raipur hospital, explicitly against Supreme Court orders1. Soni was also incarcerated in police lockup for 24 hours against Supreme Court orders when taken to Kolkata for a medical re-examination6. Soni has testified in a video recorded statement that she has been threatened by the police to not reveal her custodial torture for fear that they will arrest her brother, who is the sole caretaker of her children.

Soni Sodi and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi have been framed by charges that they were collecting money on behalf of the Maoists from the company Essar. Constable Mankar from the Kirandul police station admitted to fabricating the charges in a phone conversation with Soni Sodi recorded by Tehelka7. Both Soni and Lingaram have repeatedly taken a stand against the exploitation of their people and have been declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. Lingaram has trained to become a journalist and began reporting on the abysmal human rights record of the Chhattisgarh government from the ground. He has now been incarcerated and allegedly tortured, as has Sodi Soni after four previous false charges were filed against her to coerce her to help frame Lingaram on false charges.

Therefore we demand

- An investigation into the custodial sexual assault and torture of Soni Sori and the immediate suspension of the responsible officers and prosecution under the PoAAct pending this inquiry.

- The transfer of Soni Sori out of the custody of Chhattisgarh Police.

- Public proof of the good health and safety of Lingaram Kodopi and an investigation into the possibility of custodial torture of his case.

- An end to the use of lengthy custodial holding on false charges, custodial torture, and constant harassment by the police in retaliation against political activists

- An immediate end to the state-sponsored assault on the lives of the adivasi and other residents of Chhattisgarh.

The narrative of Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi is not an unusual one. Hundreds of people across the country fighting against the state and corporate grabbing of land, water and forest resources and labor exploitation have been incarcerated upon false charges. Some other heinous cases are those of cultural activist Jiten Marandi from Jharkhand who has been sentenced to death on false charges alongside Manoj Rajwar, Chhatrapati Mandal and Anil Ram; the incarceration of CPI member Kartam Joga who was the first petitioner in a victorious legal case for the disbanding of the vigilante force Salwa Judum given its history of rampant human rights violations; the incarceration of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram worker Sukhnath Oyami; the continuous incarceration of Irom Sharmila who has been fasting for the repeal of AFSPA; the booking of dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale under UAPA; the abduction and immediate re-incarceration of Arun Ferreira on fresh charges immediately upon his being acquitted of previous false charges. All these cases of false charges placed upon politically active citizens need to undergo speedy trials so that custodial imprisonment and torture during delayed trials is not used as a tool to intimidate and hold politically active people captive.

Endorsed by:

Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression: WSS -Karnataka and WSS-National, Peoples’ Democratic Forum, People’s Union for Civil Liberties: PUCL- Bangalore, PUCL-Karnataka and PUCL- National, SICHREM, Alternative Law Forum (ALF), Citizens for Justice and Peace-Tamil Nadu, Maraa, Concern, Indian Institute of Science, Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch, REDS, Saheli-Delhi, Vimochana, LesBiT, Moving Republic, New Socialist Alternative, People’s Solidarity Concerns, Visual Search, Karnataka Sex Workers Union, Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum, SCM-India

Individuals:

Pushpa Achanta, Member WSS-Karnataka; Uma V Chandru, Member PUCL-Bangalore and WSS-Karnataka; Kaveri Rajaraman Indira, Member, PDF, LesBiT, Concern; Rajesh Srinivas; Sravanthi Dasari; Dr. V. Lakshminarayana, General Secretary, PUCL-Karnataka; Dr. E. Rati Rao, Vice President, PUCL-Karnataka; M C Raj, REDS; Jyothi, REDS; Lawrence Summers, Environment Economist; Gee Ameena Suleiman; Nithu Chichu; Sumathi Murthy; Soundarya, Concern; Shubhendu Sen Roy, Concern; Shakun D, Vimochana; Bela Bhatia, member, WSS national campaign; Elavarthi Manohar-Praja Rajakiya Vedike; Priya Prabhu; Dr.Vijay Chandru – Member, High Panel for Science and Technology, UNESCO; Anuradha Talwar – Member WSS National campaign; Pushkar Raj – General Secretary, PUCL National; Pradeep Esteves; Neelima P. Aryan; Vinay Bhat, AID; Parvathy Prem, AID; Karthik Ranaganathan, AID; Tathagatha Sengupta, AID; Santosh Rohit, AID

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PUDR statement on the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Soni Sori

Peoples Union for Democratic Rights is distressed at the hiatus between the sharp observations of the Supreme Court judges and their timid operative orders and judgments. If there was any doubt over this it has been laid to rest by the recent orders of the apex court hearing the case of Soni Sori and the clarification offered by a bench of the Supreme Court in the much touted judgment on the issue of SPOs.

After her arrest in Delhi, Soni Sori had pleaded before three judges of the Saket District Court when her transit remand was being heard, that were she to be handed over to the Chhattisgarh police, she would definitely be tortured. Indeed she had pointed to the judge at the Saket district court that one member of the police team which had come to take her in their remand and escort her to Chhattisgarh had tortured her on a previous occasion. Her pleas fell on deaf ears.

When her complaint of torture including sexual violence inflicted on her was submitted before the Supreme Court, the judges chose not to intervene. And now when the medical check-up ordered by the court by a Kolkata hospital has established that stones were recovered from her private parts, the veracity of her charge stands corroborated. Instead of taking cognition of this and immediately moving her to safety of a jail outside Chhattisgarh, the apex court on 2nd December 2011 gave the state authorities 45 days to respond to the medical report and meanwhile merely shifted her to Raipur jail from Jagdalpur jail in the same state.

Thus the very same delinquent police force, its personnel and associated authorities have got permission to incarcerate her for an inordinately long period, a period sufficient for the state government to threaten, brow beat and destroy Soni Sori before it prepares its response. It appears that custodial rape and torture of a woman, adivasi at that, does not enjoy any premium as there is greater concern for the prestige of the state authorities engaged in the valiant game of prosecuting a war against its own people in the tribal belt of India. The order of the Supreme Court has also risked Soni Sori’s safety further by shifting her to Raipur jail as her travel to the Dantewada court now entails a journey of 22 hours. It threatens her already frail health, puts her in prolonged police custody during transit and provides the government an easy alibi to deny her access to the court altogether.

In the SPO case the apex court bench watered down, if not trivialized, its original order issued on 5 July 2011 which had directed the Central government to desist from providing any funds for supporting directly or indirectly recruitment of SPOs and engaging them in counter-insurgency activities and had declared that the appointment of SPOs as part of regular police as unconstitutional. Thus, the deployment of SPOs anywhere including in J&K, North East, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal became illegal. By agreeing to remove reference to central government and by confining the judgment to Chhattisgarh alone and by maintaining scrupulous silence over how the Chhattisgarh state got around the restriction by raising a new force, the Supreme Court restored everything it had declared to be unconstitutional and thereby trivialised its own judgment and observations.

The only rationale behind the issuing of such orders is that once ‘national security’ is invoked, the Courts, even the apex Court, fall in line behind the Executive. The most recent order on the deployment of SPOs and that regarding Soni Sori’s custodial torture show the Supreme Court in poor light and even more regrettably show it to be sacrificing people’s fundamental rights at the altar of “national security”.

For those of us who perceive the judiciary, at least its higher levels, as a protector of people’s interests there is salutary message: our freedoms are at risk because people’s concerns receives a short shrift at the hands of the judiciary as and when the executive invokes national security. Thus, radical observations and timid, if not trivial, operative orders must be condemned.

Paramjit Singh
Harish Dhawan
Secretaries, PUDR

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Delhi : Citizens blockade Raman Singh – demand release of Soni Sori, Linga and others

December 3, 2011

* Dharna and blockade of the CM was held at 11am at Chhattisgarh Sadan, New Delhi.
* Delhi Police was used by the Chhattisgarh Sadan authorities to forcefully remove the demonstrators
* Unequal and brutal force was used by the police, especially against women protesters
* Delhi groups and concerned citizens were demanding action against Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh for police brutality and sexual violence used on undertirals like Soni Sori
* Press conference was held by women’s groups, others at IWPC at 2pm following the police action

As the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, arrived in town, several Delhi-based women’s groups, democratic rights groups, and progressive individuals staged a protest at the Chhattisgarh Sadan, comprising of more than 50 representatives from various organizations demanding justice for Soni Suri, Lingaram Kodopi and various tribal activists in the state.

The Chief Minister refused to meet the protestors and instead got the Delhi Police to forcibly remove them from the premises and dragged them out of the way so that Raman Singh could proceed to ‘his next meeting!’

This has once again proved the arrogance of the BJP-led Raman Singh government towards issues of social justice, and their utter disregard for the law. We fear for the lives of the activists upon whom false charges are forged and are under trials in the state of Chhattisgarh.

The activists held a press conference to highlight the custodial torture, sexual violence, and harassment of Soni Sori, the hounding of her family including her nephew Lingaram Kodopi who has been falsely charged under UAPA and other provisions of the IPC, the harassment of other tribals and activists in the region by the state government and the wider implications of such state aggression.

Specifically, we demand:-
· Prompt action against the SP and other officials involved in the custodial and sexual violence meted upon Soni’s person on the night of 8/9 October 2011, in Dantewada police station
· That the state government stop challenging Soni Sori’s demand to be moved out of the state on grounds of fear for her life in Chhattisgarh
· Publicly prove the safety and well-being of Lingaram Kodopi who is currently in jail in Dantewada and charged under UAPA, CSPSA and Sections 121, 124A and 120B of the Indian Penal Code – for criminal conspiracy, sedition and waging war against the State.
· Immediately stop the persecution of Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and the rest of their family
· Put an immediate end to the offensive that has been declared on tribals and activists in the region

It may be recalled that Soni was arrested in Delhi on 4th October on charges of being a `Maoist on the run’. This, despite her having attended her job at school and in fact, been in touch with the local police officials even on a case regarding her father who had been shot at by Maoists! But finally, fearing for her life after an attack on her in her village by the local police, Soni had arrived in Delhi to consult lawyers and seek anticipatory bail – only to be declared an absconder!

In the court of the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) at Saket, Soni pleaded for bail, failing which she asked to be held in custody in Delhi to face all investigations as she feared for her life in Chhattisgarh. Her plea was rejected and on 7th October she was handed over to the Chhattisgarh Police with the Magistrate assuring her “not all police are bad.” He gave the Chhattisgarh Police instructions to ensure her safety and produce her at the local court. The Delhi High Court also directed them to inform it of measures taken to keep her safe. But all the developments since then reveal how, far from ensuring safety, the treatment meted out by Chhattisgarh police have proven Soni Sori’s apprehensions of torture and ill-treatment right.

· When Soni Sori was brought to the Dantewada Court on 10th October she could not get down from the police van and go to the courtroom; her statement was taken by a court babu, and the Magistrate, in a clear travesty of justice, passed an order without even seeing her. The police claimed ‘she slipped in the bathroom and had hurt her head’. The examining doctor at the District Hospital said ‘she was brought in unconscious, the X-ray showed injuries on her head and back, and black marks were observed on her fingertips’ – indicating she had received electric shocks. A video clipping of her writhing in pain in the hospital, confirmed fears of custodial torture. At this point, it is clear that the police and judiciary had both violated the law.
· In her statements to relatives and her recent letter to the Supreme Court, Soni Sori has clearly stated that she was ‘pulled out of her cell at the Dantewada Police Station at midnight of 8th/9th October and taken to SP Ankit Garg’s room. There she was stripped and given electric shocks. When she woke the next morning she had severe aches and pains all over her body, injuries to her neck and spine and acute pain in her lower abdomen.

· Despite Ms. Sori’s complaints of severe lower back pain, her inability to stand, tenderness in the lower back and difficulty in walking, none of the three hospitals in Chhattisgarh which ‘examined her’ found inflammation in her private parts, the stones lodged in her vagina and rectum or the injuries to her spine. In fact, Dr. Vivek Choudhary, Medical Superintendent of the Ambedkar Hospital in Raipur, was quoted in the Hindustan Times as saying: “Medical tests reveal Sori is a malinger.” This denial extended to the highest levels of the Chhattisgarh government. At a meeting with Principal Secretary, N. Baijendra Kumar in Delhi on 14th October 2011, we were assured that she was ‘safe in jail and that her wounds were not serious. He also said that the Health Secretary had ‘confirmed the fact’ so there was no need for concern about her safety; that he had been told by Dantewada Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg and state DGP Anil M Nawaney that Ms. Sori had not been ill-treated!

· Following a Supreme Court order, an independent medical review was finally conducted in NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkata. The report, presented in court on the 25th Nov, 2011 states that two stones had been found inserted in her vagina and one in her rectum. The MRI scan shows that she has annular tears on her spine.
Such brutality and utter disregard of the law cannot go unpunished, especially when it is meted out by the so called protectors of the law!

But the question remains: why is Soni Sori being harassed and tortured by the police?

Soni Sori has consistently refused to be an informer for the Chhattisgarh Police. She is also an aunt of Lingaram Kodopi, a young outspoken journalist who was also being hounded by the Chhattisgarh Police after he resisted their efforts to enroll him as an SPO. Lingaram was arrested on September 9 and has been charged under the dreaded Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) among others. He is accused of being a go-between for bribe being paid by Essar to the Maoists. The police allege that Soni Sori is involved in the same case, and have also charged her in several other cases. Publicly available material clearly shows that the charges against both of them are false and politically motivated. If anything, it is a well-known fact that as a journalist, Lingaram had acquired damning evidence of police atrocities which the Chhattisgarh police wish to suppress/discredit by filing false cases against him. Given the record of the Chhattisgarh Police in cases such as these, there is great concern for the safety of Lingaram who has been booked under the UAPA that allows the state police to keep Lingaram in custody for 6 months without a charge sheet!

In fact, the entire family of Soni and Lingaram is being systematically intimidated by the Chhattisgarh Police. Soni’s husband has been arrested and her brother, the sole caretaker of her three children is also facing the threat of arrest.

All of which raises the larger question: This is the state that kept Binayak Sen and Kopa Kunjam, Ajay T.G. and several others, and brought similar charges against them. If this is the reality of how the Chhattisgarh Police is handling cases like those of Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi, which are in the public eye, what is it doing to other vocal but lesser known tribals and activists in the state?

PRESS CONFERENCE CALLED BY:
Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh, Saheli, Women Against Sexual Repression and State Repression, Delhi Solidarity Group, various other progressive movements and individuals in Delhi.

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Video of a protest in Delhi against the torture of Soni Sori