Resolution adopted at the February 13 convention for unconditional release of political prisoners

March 7, 2013

CONVENTION FOR UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS

Organised by Constituents of Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations CDRO) in West Bengal:
Asansole Civil Rights Association (ACRA)
Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR)
Bandi Mukti Committee (BMC)

HELD AT STUDENTS’ HALL, KOLKATA, 13 FEBRUARY 2013

RESOLUTION

Placed before the convention by Amitadyuti Kumar (APDR). Sachhidananda Banerjee (APDR), Muktesh Ghosh (ACRA), Anzum Zamaruda Habib (J & K), Chhoton Das (BMC), Gopal Mishra and Anu Mishra (Delhi), Sumankalyan Moulik (AXRA), Sashibhushan Pathak (Jharkhand PUCL), Debaprasad Raichaudhury (APDR), Ganesh Soren (Jangal Mahal), Pijush Guha and Tapas Sinha spoke on the resolution.

The resolution was unanimously adopted after incorporaing two amendments proposed.

Political dissent and right to opposition to state policies are fundamental to democratic governance and transparency. Yet several thousand people are languishing in jails and other detention centres, or being harassed in criminal cases all over the country year after year for their beliefs, for opposing state policies, for participating in movements seeking redress of their grievances or for striving for an egalitarian society based on their political ideologies. Among the arrested and persecuted are a large number of people held or convicted under concocted charges – only to teach the people of certain areas a lesson.

Movement for release of persons arrested or persecuted for their political dissent is as old as the history of persecution here and everywhere in the world. In British India such movements for release of political prisoners cropped up time and again, with almost every upsurge of nationalist movement. In 1919 such movement compelled the colonial rulers to agree to release armed revolutionaries under the Montegu-Chelmsford agreement. When the British chose not to release the political prisoners in accordance with the 1931 Gandhi-Erwin agreement a stronger countrywide movement compelled them to release all political prisoners including armed freedom fighters in 1937. In the post-1947 period the government had to bow down to the demand for release of prisoners of Tebhaga and Telengana movements and prisoners of Azad Hind Fauz. The demand for release of political prisoners was an integral part of the 1959 and 1966 Food Movements in West Bengal. The 1966 movement not only realised the unconditional release of movement participants but also compelled the government to release all those political activists arrested under DIR and other criminal laws in the wake of India’s China War (1962) and Indo-Pak War (1965). In the 1970s, when political killings, fake encounters, jail massacres, combing and large-scale indiscriminate arrests were the order of the day, people of conscience and democratic values dared all threats to come forward with the demand for unconditional release of all political prisoners. With their initiative rights organisations like APDR, PUCL, APCLC, etc., were formed to organise democratic voices, build up movement and expose the draconian onslaught of the state on the people. These and other organisations and individuals came forward to stand by the side of the persecuted and oppressed prisoners and their families and defend them legally also. The promulgation of Emergency in June 1975 could not suppress the spirit of democracy for long. We all know that the resulting resistance and cry for democracy saw the architects of Emergency out of power. The initial dillydallying did not work and the new central and state governments had no option but to release all political prisoners unconditionally.

The West Bengal government also enacted the West Bengal Correctional Services Act 1992, Section 24 of which quite clearly defines political prisoners. The demand of unconditional release of all political prisoners everywhere has now become an international demand and 3 December is marked as the ‘International Day for Release of all Political Prisoners’.

Such is a brief backdrop against which this convention is being held.

During the last two decades, the clutches of the neo-liberal economy has tightened its noose of exploitation on the people. With this is associated a new spate of promulgation and amendment of draconian laws in line with the US-touted ‘War of Civilisations’ and ‘Infinite War against Terror’. The UN resolution No. 73 of 2001 effectively endorsed these designs. Rights organisations and democratic forces have been continually unmasking the gross subversion of all principles of human rights and criminal jurisprudence by these laws through their publications, seminars and other activities. Without going into the detail, the three most remarkable features of these special repressive laws, now piously rechristened as ‘security laws’, may be mentioned here: firstly all of them serve the purpose of smooth running of the neo-liberal economy perpetuating hunger, unemployment and loot of natural resources, secondly these laws aim at equating political resistance and resistance against foreign intervention with crimes of drug cartels, crime mafia, money launderers and other assorted crime syndicates and club them as organised crime and thus, thirdly, while ordinary criminal laws criminalise individuals, these laws criminalise organisations and movements.

Maoists are associated with the Adivasi opposition to loot of natural resources by corporates in Central India. And Maoists are targeted as the biggest internal security threat. In line with the needs of the American state and our ruling Hindu elite, Muslim organisations and movements and Kashmiri people’s movements have also been specially targeted. Kashmiri and North-Eastern people are further subjugated under the boots of AFSPA–Irom Sharmila’s historic indefinite fast for its withdrawal entered the 11th year last November.

This convention unequivocally declares that people have the inalienable right to oppose and organise against state policies which they consider undemocratic and anti-people and to realise their just demands. AFSPA, UAPA, NIA and different ‘public security’ laws and ‘organised crime prevention’ laws are being used to deprive people of that right and thousands of people and scores of organisations across the country have been persecuted, tortured and convicted under these laws.


This convention demands immediate scrapping of AFSPA, UAPA, NIA, Sedition Act (Section 124A of the IPC) and different ‘public security’ laws and ‘organised crime prevention’ laws and lifting of ban orders on all organisations including CPI(Maoist), SIMI, etc.

Criminalising and banning organisations provided a handy tool to state authorities to arrest, detain, torture, convict and punish dissenting voices and suppress movements and organisations. It is difficult to estimate how many people are languishing behind bars as convicts or undertrials. From Kashmir to the North-East there will be more than 10,000 people as of now behind bars for political reasons. Thousands are being harassed in innumerable false cases–up to 38 at least in a single case in West Bengal. Octogenarian Maoist leaders like Sushil Ray and Narayan Sanyal were booked in 7 to 12 cases spread over 3/4 states. Muslim youths falsely implicated in Malegaon and other Maharashtra blast cases had to be released after 7 to 10 years in jail after it came to light that the blasts were actually handiworks of Hindutva fundamentalists. 8000 people were arrested and booked for sedition u/s 124A IPC, for participating in the Kudankulam anti-nuclear power plant movement. Civil rights activist and community health work pioneer Binayak Sen, cultural activists Seema and Viswajeevay Azad, Maharashtra political activist Arun Ferreira were all booked and kept behind bars for years. Hundreds of people resisting eviction from their land and livelihood, protesting against destruction of environment, agitating for just wages and better work condition in workplaces at the Gurgaon Maruti factory, Asansole coal belt or elsewhere have been arrested. People’s movement activist Dayamani Barla, Sunilam and many others were arrested and/or convicted.

In West Bengal, the present Mamata Banerjee government came to power riding on the waves of Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh and other movements against the erstwhile Left Front government. Before coming to power she and her party colleagues gave full-throated cry for the release of political prisoners and withdrawal of joint forces from the Jangal Mahal area. When the seat of power was in sight, she changed her commitment to review the cases of undertrials on a case-to-case basis. On assuming power she forgot her promises and rather tried to divide and usurp the rights movement. Ms Banerjee demanded judicial inquiry for the encounter killing of Maoist leader Azad. But when her regime killed Maoist politburo member Kishenji after arrest and brutal torture she declined such an inquiry. The joint forces are still there in Jangal Mahal, arrests, encounter killing, custodial torture, custodial rape, killing of activists and all other atrocities including attacks on people by armed TMC men supported by the police are going on in full swing. The right to freedom of expression and freedom of association have come under new onslaught under the new regime. The police are faithfully following the whims of the ruling party bosses while arresting university professors or booking journalists for exchanging views in social media. Ailing septuagenerian Gaur Chakrabarty, Patit Paban Halder and other alleged Maoists, Chhatradhar Mahato and many other activists of Jangal Mahal’s PCPA, life-convict SUCI leader Prabodh Purkait and other SUCI activists, some alleged SIMI, KLO and other movement activists are now in the jails as convicts or undertrials. Now her government, it is learnt, at the advice of the central government is also planning to do away with the provisions for political prisoners in the WB Correctional Services Act 1992. Their novel plea is that the state government can invoke UAPA, but only the central govt can withdraw UAPA charges from a person!

News of encounter deaths from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, AP, J&K and NE states are regularly being fed to the media. In some of these, CDRO constituents and other rights bodies have conducted fact-finding and found these to be cold-blooded murder of mostly unarmed villagers or captured activists. A PIL in the Supreme Court in December last alleged 1500 fake encounter killing in Manipur alone. The apex court ordered a judicial inquiry on January 6 this year on five of them.

People of Jammu and Kashmir and particularly the family members of more than 8000 disappeared persons have the right to know the whereabouts of their kins. A part of the truth lies six feet under where 2,156 unidentified bodies were buried in north Kashmir. An International People’s Tribunal examined 214 of these cases and 500 individual perpetrators have been identified. But the state is yet to act.

This is the scenario in which this convention calls for:

– Immediate unconditional release of all political prisoners
– Impartial inquiry, with participation of human rights activists into all claims of encounter deaths
– Investigation in all allegations of torture, rape, killing/death in custody and punishment of the perpetrators and compensation to the victims. In this context this convention also demands immediate ratification of the UN Convention against Torture and acceptance and implementation of its optional protocol.
– Withdraw Military/Paramilitary/Joint forces from Central India’s Tribal belt, Jangal Mahal of West Bengal, North-Eastern states and Jammu & Kashmir.
– Disband Salwa Judum and other state sponsored private armies immediately.

The crux of the tribal area problem lies in the centuries of exploitation, underdevelopment, hunger and deprivation of all sorts. In recent years eviction from their land and livelihood by the Indian State at the behest of corporates created the danger of the extinction of whole populations and their habitats. Attempts of forced eviction compelled the people of Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal to rise in unprecedented mass resistance. People of Orissa are still resisting attempts of eviction for the benefit of South Korean Corporate POSCO. Similar is the situation in many other places.

This convention calls for immediate stopping of all eviction and displacement under the garb of development
and industrialisation.

Like political activists a large number of common people are being harassed and persecuted after being accused of violating criminal laws. The jails are overcrowded with poor and underprivileged undertrials awaiting justice years on. The individuals and their families are ruined by the apathy of the system. Often they resort to hunger-strikes which is the only way they can air their grievances. This convention expresses deep concern at their plight and demands:

– Cases of all undertrials be reviewed in line with UN and NHRC guidelines and be released on bail as far as possible under conditions affordable by them.
– Criminal Justice System must be revamped urgently to ensure speedy trial of all accused.

While we were making preparations for this convention Md Afzal Guru was hanged in Tihar jail on 9 February in a most secretive and clandestine operation. The death sentence imposed on Afzal was itself a travesty of justice, which has now transformed into judicial terror.

– This convention strongly denounces this dastardly act by the Indian state and once again calls upon the democratic forces to unite behind the call for the abolition of death penalty and to demand that India should sign the second optional protocol of ICCPR.
– This convention demands that the deadbody of Afzal Guru be returned to his family.
– This convention also demands that proposed death penalty in the ordinance on sexual violence against women (after Verma Commission Report) be scrapped.
– This convention hopes similar initiatives will be taken in other states/areas of the country to build up a strong public opinion.
– This convention calls upon all rights organisations, democratic organisations and individuals to unite and come forward to build up a strong countrywide movement for realising the above demands.
– This convention also calls upon all fraternal rights organisations and all others who can to collect details of state atrocities, details about political prisoners to prepare a fact-sheet to be presented to the people.