Rights Organisations Codemn Conviction Of Chhatradhar Mahato
And Five Others By Midnapore District Court
13 May, 2015
PEOPLE’S UNION FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS (PUDR)
Condemn Conviction of Chhatradhar Mahato and Five Others by Midnapore District Court
PUDR strongly condemns the decision of the Midnapore District Court to award life-sentences to Chhatradhar Mahato, Sukhsanti Baske, Shambhu Soren,Sagun Murmu, Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee. All six were arrested between September and October 2009 from Lalgarh and Kolkata on charges of being Maoists and for backing a Maoist front organization, People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) and charged under sections of the UAPA, Arms Act, Explosives Substances Act and IPC. While the details of the judgment are awaited, PUDR would like to draw attention to some of the preliminary issues arising out of reports on the conviction order:
1. Like the arrests, the convictions are politically motivated. The arrests were driven by the then CPI(M) government’s efforts at controlling the immensely successful people’s movement in Lalgarh under Chhatradhar Mahato, the convener of PCPA. Sukhshanti Baske, the alleged cashier of PCPA was arrested a few days after Mahato and fund receipts were recovered from him. It needs to be remembered that the PCPA was never officially banned. So, how could fund collection be a crime? In order to make this a crime, the PCPA had to be named as a Maoist front organization after which the indigenous people and their movement became a terrorist one. The conviction of Baske is a damning proof of the same.
2. Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee have been awarded life sentence despite the fact that no ammunition or firearms were recovered from them. If printed materials and two mobile phones, the initial list of seizures, are sufficient cause for attracting life-imprisonment, then it stands to reason that a very large number of activists across the political spectrum should be likewise convicted. However, the two were never given bail and now the District Court has confirmed the political decision by awarding life imprisonment to them.
3. The conviction of Chhatradhar Mahato is part of the continuing war on the Maoists which began in earnest in 2009 under the UPA led Central Government through its notorious Operation Greenhunt. This war cuts across party lines as there is a political understanding that the Maoists must be finished either militarily or through large-scale imprisonments. The convictions awarded to Chhatradhar Mahatois very much a part of this process as his brother,Sasadhar Mahato,was a well-known Maoist leader who was killed in a police encounter in 2011.Ironically, Mahato who had been granted bail in 37 cases out of 38 was slapped with a new case in February 2015. The decision of the State Government was clear: it was not going to allow release of Mahato under any circumstances. The punishment awarded by the District Court is obviously in tandem with this decision.
4. Public memory is short and many may have forgotten that the seventh person who was also arrested in the present case (no. 161/2009 Lalgarh PS) was RanjitMurmu who died in judicial custody in September 2011. His ailments primarily acquired in jail, malaria and kidney failure, were never treated properly and even after his death in NRS Hospital Kolkata, his family was never informed. Thanks to the intervention of APDR (Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights) his family was finally able to perform the last rites, four days after his death. Ranjit Murmu, Shambhu Soren and Sagun Murmu were members of PCPA and were arrested hours ahead of Mahato on 26th September, 2009. They were allegedly involved in an unsuccessful explosion against a raiding party in which no one was injured. While Ranjit died, the other two tribal activists are paying for their poverty as they never had the resources to fight for bail or acquire well-known legal help.
5. The convictions raise a question: could these punishments be awarded if the provisions of banning PCPA as a front organization of the CPI (Maoist) not been available via UAPA? Under UAPA, membership of a banned organization is a crime, possession of banned literature is a crime, collection of funds is a crime, participation in meetings, leafletting, taking out processions etc. are crimes. Arguably, if remains of an explosion were found, as was allegedly the case in Dalilpur Village area on 26th September 2009, then, the investigation would have had to proceed according to the provisions of normal law. However, once UAPA is invoked, relevant sections of the IPC or Arms Act or Explosives Act can be easily included as the accused are regarded as terrorists. The present convictions in the first UAPA case of Bengal confirm this political intention.
PUDR protests this unfair conviction and urges an immediate repeal of UAPA.
UAPA: An alibi for political vendetta
By Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation (CDRO)
CDRO (Coordination of Democratic Rights Organizations)unequivocally condemns the judgement of the Midnapore (West Bengal) district and sessions court on 12th May, 2015, convicting Chatradhar Mahato, spokesperson of the Peoples Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) of Lalgarh, along with Sukhshanti Baske, treasurer of the PCPA, Sambhu Soren and Sagun Murmu, members of PCPA and Raja (Tinku) Sarkhel and Prasun Chattopadhyay, members of Gana Pratirodh Manch for sedition and waging war against the state. The first four, namely Chatradhar Mahato, Sukhshanti Baske, Sambhu Soren and Sagun Murmu, have also been convicted under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the first convictions under UAPA in West Bengal. They have all been sentenced to life imprisonment under charges of sedition. CDRO considers this judgement to be not only a travesty of justice but also a political attempt by the state to send a clear message to peoples' movements across West Bengal and India that any dissent against the state and any democratic opposition to the ruling classes will be severely dealt with, including through adverse judicial pronouncements.
The Lalgarh movement, of which these people were participants, was an uprising of the adivasi-moolvasi people of Jangalmahal against the police repression and exploitation which they have suffered for decades. Because Chatradhar Mahato and his comrades stood up against the unrelenting exploitation of the adivasi and poor people, and people like Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chattopadhyay stood in solidarity with them, they are being targeted. They have been in jail since 2009 while the trial has dragged on for six long years without bail, finally leading to this conviction. Chatradhar Mahato was also falsely implicated in 38 other cases, linked to every possible incident in Jangalmahal during the Lalgarh movement, most of which have remained unsustainable by the persecution. Seeing the un-tenability of these cases against him, the state has used these UAPA and sedition charges to keep him and his comrades imprisoned for this long time, and now have allowed them to be convicted under these charges.
It is a telling state of affairs that judiciary delivers what the government wishes and leaders and workers of peoples' movements face lifelong imprisonment. CDRO calls upon all democracy-loving people to come out in protest against this conviction. CDRO also demands the unconditional release of Chatradhar Mahato and his comrades and all others political prisoners. CDRO also demands the rubbishing of the grotesquely draconian UAPA forthwith.
C. Chandrasekhar (CLC, Andhra Pradesh), Paramjeet Singh (PUDR, Delhi), Parmindar Singh (AFDR, Punjab), Phulendro Konsam (COHR, Manipur) and Tapas Chakraborty (APDR, West Bengal)
(Coordinators of CDRO).
Constituent Organisations: Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR, West Bengal); Bandi Mukti Morcha (West Bengal); Campaign for Peace & Democracy in Manipur (CPDM), Delhi; Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC); Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR, Mumbai); Coordination for Human Rights (COHR, Manipur); Human Rights Forum (HRF, Andhra Pradesh); Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), Assam; Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR); Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR, Andhra Pradesh); Peoples’ Committee for Human Rights (PCHR, Jammu and Kashmir); Peoples Democratic Forum (PDF, Karnataka); Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR, Delhi); Peoples Union for Civil Rights (PUCR, Haryana)
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