June 2: Rights bodies demand general amnesty for political prisoners in West Bengal

June 2, 2011

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-newdelhi/article2067354.ece

In the wake of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s announcement immediately after taking charge that cases against political prisoners would be withdrawn following “case-to-case review” by a “review committee”, various human rights organisations have already started submitting lists of such “political prisoners” to the government for review.

The organisations, however, are demanding a general amnesty policy to be formulated by the new Trinamool Congress-led government rather than a case-to-case review.

According to a letter sent by the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) to Ms. Banerjee recently, the organisation has appealed to the Chief Minister to announce a general amnesty for political prisoners as a policy guideline on the same lines of the first left Front government in 1977.

Though there was no legal definition of political prisoner back then, the Jyoti Basu-led Left Front government had issued a policy guideline of general amnesty for political prisoners.

The West Bengal Correctional Services Act, 1992, finally gave a definition to political prisoners as those who are arrested or convicted on a charge of having committed or attempting to commit aiding or abetting the commissions of any political offence.

Human rights bodies estimate the presence of over 10,000 political prisoners in different correctional homes of the State currently.

Mass movements

“The majority of the political prisoners comprise persons against whom charges were framed by the police during mass movements in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh. They include both apolitical innocent persons and supporters of political parties,” Debaprasad Roy Chowdhury, general secretary of the APDR, toldThe Hindu here on Tuesday.

The APDR has submitted an initial list of 465 political prisoners to the Chief Minister for review and is also planning to hold a rally in the city on June 7 where their family members will be brought to appeal to the government for a general amnesty policy.

According to another well-known human rights outfit, Bandi Mukti Committee, correctional homes in the three Maoist-affected districts of Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia alone house around 4,000 political prisoners.

“Around half of them have been charged under sections of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act on the basis of mere suspicion of them being Maoists and the police could not submit charge sheets against most of them,” Chhoton Das, secretary of Committee, said.

Hailing the new government’s intentions, Mr. Das added that all political prisoners lodged in jails since 2002 should be “released unconditionally”.

Meanwhile, the Maoist-backed Police Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee too is planning to stage demonstrations before correctional homes in the three districts to demand for the release of its arrested leaders and supporters, including its convener Chhatradhar Mahato.

“We have heard about Ms. Banerjee’s announcement but we are not ready to believe it until it is actually implemented. Till then, our movement will continue,” said former PSBJC spokesperson Manoj Mahato.