Harassment of activists helping investigation of suspicious death of Manipuri youth Pravish
Hong Kong: The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received updated information from the Youth Forum for the Protection of Human Rights (YFPHR), Manipur about the harassment of activists who are fighting for a fair and expeditious investigation into the death of Pravish Chanam. Pravish, a permanent resident of Manipur, was found dead in suspicious circumstances in Noida. His body was cremated without further. This is alleged to be part of a wider epidemic of violence against north-eastern people in the National Capital Region (NCR), and the apathy of investigating agencies in such cases.
Pholen, a resident of Imphal in Manipur, is the Convenor of the People Action Committee (PAC) against the disappearance and subsequent cremation of Pravish Chanam at Greater Noida. On 9 th September, 2017, Mr. Ashok Thounaojam, Pravish’s friend informed Pravish’s elder brother Pravish Chanam had gone missing and his whereabouts could not be traced since when he was last seen at 9:00pm at the venue of the music concert. The police of Knowledge Park Station failed to circulate the missing person’s complaint on time. Instead it was circulated two days after receiving it. The Nithari Police Station did not circulate the report of an unidentified dead body found lying in the Government District Combined Hospital. Pravish’s body was cremated quickly without asking the permission of his family beforehand. The AHRC had subsequently raised an urgent appeal regarding the disappearance of Pravish Chanam.
Subsequent to the formation of the PAC, there was a series of democratic and non-violent movements by the people demanding justice for Pravish in Manipur and the surrounding regions. The movements, which consisted of sit-in protests and rallies, demanded that the investigation into Pravish’s death and his unauthorized cremation were to be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and also decried the racial discrimination that north-eastern people face in the country today. The PAC, along with the North East Forum for International Solidarity (NEFIS) and Youth’s Forum for Protection of Human Rights (YFPHR) had served an ultimatum to the government of Manipur and the Government of India to handover the matter to the CBI by 27th January 2018.
After the respective governments failed to take any action in this regard, the volunteers and the members of PAC, NEFIS and YFPHR burnt down the effigies of the Home Minister of India Rajnath Singh, Governor of Manipur, Najma Heptulla and the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath on 27th January, 2018 at Uripok Achom Leikai in Imphal West. As a result, a suo moto case (FIR no: 18(1)2018 IPS U/S 285/ 189/506/34 IPC) was filed against Pholen at the direction of Mr. Ch. Subol Singh, Officer-in-charge of Imphal Police Station In the evening of the same day, at around 7.30 p.m., two police vehicles surrounded Pholen’s residence and demanded to know his whereabouts. While Pholen was fortunately not at home at the time, the police asked his wife to sign a paper without revealing its contents to her. The next day, at around 7 a.m., the same police officers returned to his house and threatened to arrest Pholen’s family members if they did not produce him. In response to the actions of the police, the women’s wing of the PAC organized a sit-in protest near Pholen’s residence, decrying their harassment of a person who is currently spearheading the mass movement to end racial discrimination towards north-eastern people.
At present, the investigation is being stalled due to the complacency of the concerned state governments. On 21st September, 2017, the Chief Minister of Manipur had met with his counterpart in Uttar Pradesh to ask him to speed up the investigation, due to which the latter had stated that the investigation was going on in full swing, and that the matter could be handed to the CBI if the government of Manipur was dissatisfied. In December, after no action was taken by the police in Uttar Pradesh, people rose in protest against the inaction of the UP government. In response to this, the CM of Manipur wrote to the CM of UP, requesting him to hand the matter over to the CBI, but no positive response has been forthcoming. Similarly, the CM of Manipur also met with the Home Minister on 19th January 2018, and repeated this request, but to no avail. Shockingly, the Home Minister was made aware of the case only ten days earlier, when a delegation of women from Manipur met with him and the MoS for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, and informed him of the same. At the same time, the threats to Pholen from the police have not yet stopped, while the integrity of the investigation continues to be compromised, as one of the potential suspects in the case is a close relative of the Deputy CM of Manipur.
Firstly, in order to ensure impartiality, the SC in R.S. Sodhi v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1994 Supp 1 SCC 143) had mandated that investigations which involve allegations against members of police forces must be handed over the CBI or another neutral authority. Considering that there is clear evidence of the police being involved in initial unauthorized cremation of his body and are now harassing Pholen, his objective of getting the case of Pravish Chanam transferred to the CBI must also be fulfilled at the earliest.
Pholen’s work as an activist could classify him as a human rights defender, which would entitle him to special protection under international law. The UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998, which stated that governments have the duty to “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actions” as a consequence of their efforts to promote human rights”. the Indian State is duty-bound to ensure that all activists and human rights defenders are provided with protection against arbitrary arrests under false charges, security against violence from law enforcement, so that they may enjoy their constitutional right to due process, life and liberty under Article 21, and the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a).
Moreover, in this case, the Police filed a suo moto case against Pholen subsequent to the public burning of effigies of political leaders. While the judgment in Lalita Kumari v. UOI imposes the obligation on police personnel to register an FIR upon receiving information, it is clear that there is no cognizable offence that can be made out in the instant case. There is no prohibition on burning effigies in public in the Indian Penal Code; this incident occurred and so long as there was no damage to public property or to another person, the protesters were merely exercising their fundamental right to speech and expression.
In the case of Prakash Singh v. UOI [(2006) 8 SCC 1] the Supreme Court (SC) directed each state to implement the Model Police Bill of 2006, which would entail the constitution of a State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA) that would have the power to hear complaints about personnel in a neutral environment. Despite this order of the SC, only fourteen states till date have passed the Bill, while even fewer states have actually constituted the SPCA. The presence of an impartial body which can take cognizance of complaints against law enforcement personnel is essential to ensure that situations of police harassment and abuse of power – as in the current case involving Pholen – will reduce.
The case of Mr Pravish Chanam is not the only case but there have been other cases of missing persons such as Taorem Bitoo at New Delhi on 13.09.2017, the death of Mr. Richard Loitam in the year 2012 at Karnataka, the death of Mr. Nido Tania in the year 2014 at New Delhi, along with other cases of brutality towards the North East people have not been investigated and justice delayed.
Please write letters to the relevant authorities asking them to ensure that the investigation into Pravish’s death is handed over to the CBI at the earliest; that the harassment of A. Pholen, and other activists involved in this peaceful and democratic movement is stopped at the earliest; that the FIR against Pholen is withdrawn immediately; that disciplinary action is taken against the errant police officers; and that each state will set up its Police Complaints Authority at the earliest. The AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders for their intervention in the matter. (Asian Human Rights Commission)