WSS Statement On Arrest Warrants Issued By Jharkhand Government Against Activists And Writers

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) expresses shock and concern at the arrest warrant issued against Stan Swamy, Aloka Kujur, Rakesh Roshan, Vinod Kumar and Babita Kashyap on 17 June 2019, one year after the FIR was filed against 20 writers, intellectuals and activists in Jharkhand on 26 July 2018 based on Facebook posts. All five are vulnerable to imminent arrest as part of the Jharkhand government’s targeted campaign against those defending human rights of adivasis in the state.

The Jharkhand Government has used an invalidated provision of the IT Act, Section 66A, to attack these human rights defenders who are standing with Adivasis.The FIR in question was lodged last year at Khunti PS against under Sections 121, 121A, 124 IPC and Sections 66 and 66A Information Technology Act, covering offences of waging war against the state, conspiracy and sedition, along with the offence of sending grossly offensive information by means of a computer or communication device. It must be noted that S.66A, IT Act has previously been struck down by the Supreme Court in March 2015, but has been invoked by the Jharkhand administration without regard to a judgment of the Supreme Court. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had also issued notices in a PIL for the continued use of the provision even after it has been struck down. Out of the 20 persons named in the FIR, the four out of five persons against whom the arrest warrant has been issued had also applied to the Ranchi High Court last year for quashing the FIR, which remains pending. Complaints to the NHRC for action against the targeting of human rights defenders through this FIR on sedition, also remain pending.

The FIR falsely alleges that all named accused are inciting and misleading innocentadivasis of Khunti through their Facebook posts by giving wrong interpretations of the Constitution relating to their rights. Even as it is well-established that Facebook posts are protected by the freedom of speech, and that no action can be taken in the absence of immediate incitement to violence, no further investigations were made in the case over the past one year, and the Jharkhand government took no action on the FIR for almost a year even though all five remained active in public life. The state’s and police’s use of the draconic sedition law to stifle dissent in such cases only shows the receding space for human rights and civil liberties.

The pathalgarhi movement had been ongoing for more than a year before the FIR and the Facebook posts by the accused persons. The FIR of 26 July 2018 was a part of a string of repressive measures by the Jharkhand government on Khunti, Kochang and Ghaghra areas, where the Gram Sabhas had been asserting their constitutional rights to their land, under the Vth Schedule and the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act, against the transfer of the same lands to land banks and mineral prospecting without the information or consent of the peoples. Over the course of June and July 2018, the Khunti administration capitalized on the unfortunate gang rape of five adivasi women to unleash a manhunt for pathalgarhi leaders and supporters, and to station CRPF, COBRA and other security camps in the village. WSS has previously documented the human rights violations during the security raids of June 2018. Attempts to have the camps vacated from schools and panchayati bhawans in the village continue. Additionally, there are estimates of more than 300 villagers having been charged with sedition under FIRs that have not been disclosed to them, for their participation in panchayat meetings.

It appears that the impetus for the present arrest warrant comes from directions issued by the Central Bureau of Investigation to the Khunti PS. Aloka Kujur, a leading woman’s rights activist in Jharkhand who is involved in struggles for land rights and against militarization of adivasi areas for decades, has been subject to routine surveillance since last year. She has been relentlessly bringing light to the human rights violations in Khunti and neighbouring districts last year in the aftermath of the Khunti gang-rape, the establishment of security camps in schools and panchayati bhawans, and the deaths, assaults and sexual violence against men, women and children during the security raids by more than 1000 security personnel in June-July 2018.

Stan Swamy, who is more than 80 years old, has been a consistent target for the present dispensation. Stan Swamy is a human rights activist working on issues of adivasi rights. He is a member of Vistapan Virodhi Janvikash Andolan (VVJA), a network of different movements fighting against forced evictions of marginalised communities.  He is also a part of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee and has taken on cases of arbitrary and unauthorised solitary confinement, arrests of human rights defenders. Stan Swamy has been advocating for the implementation of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act in the Fifth Scheduled areas of Jharkhand as guaranteed under the Constitution. Stan Swamy was also one of those raided on the morning of 28 August 2018 as part of the simultaneous raids in the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case. Vinod Kumar is a journalist.

WSS demands that the fraudulent and mala fide FIR intended to threaten and deter the free speech of Stan Swamy, Aloka Kujur, Rakesh Roshan and Vinod Kumar, be immediately quashed, and the Jharkhand government cease its targeted hunt for activists and intellectuals bringing attention to state abuse of power in the state.

-Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)

Conveners: Ajita, Nisha, Rinchin and Shalini