Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) strongly condemns the slapping of cases against activists of a team of several civil liberties and democratic rights organisations from across the country who conducted a fact-finding into the recent killings of 20 red sanders "smugglers" in Chittoor district. Members of CDRO (Committee of Democratic Rights) and other human rights groups had visited the two 'encounter' sites on 10th April. When the team tried to speak to the forest officials to get their version of events they were threatened with dire consequences. Subsequently several team members were booked by forest officials yesterday, 11th April, for trespassing. Entering into a reserved forest area without authorisation is an offence under Sec 20 of the Andhra Pradesh Forest Act, 1957. Other charges may also have been applied. That this is a targetted, selective, and blatant act of harassment is all too obvious as media teams have been freely visiting the sites since 7th April itself.
Significantly, those booked include Mr Chiluka Chandrasekhar- advocate and General Secretary, Civil Liberties Committee (CLC -erstwhile APCLC) - who filed a PIL into the killings. It was on this basis that the AP High Court issued directives including registration of the case as unnatural deaths, observing the SC guidelines into encounter killings, preserving the bodies and a post mortem by a team of forensic experts.
In a Press Conference held in Tirupati on 11th April the team had released an interim report of their investigation. The team particularly highlighted the cold-blooded killings of 20 persons which are being passed off in the police version as ‘random’ deaths which occurred in ‘self-defence’ when attacked with stones and axes by over 100 red sanders "smugglers", resulting in the deaths of 20 of the coolies. The rights' team when they visited the two sites found no other bullet marks, or blood spots except where the bodies fell, as should have happened in a random firing. The bodies were found in close proximity to each other rather than scattered over a large area. Moreover neither of the sites had no stones that the coolies could have hurled. The team questioned as to what happened to the rest of the coolies at least some of whom must have been injured in the "random", and allegedly untargetted firing.
In the light of the above, the registering of a case against the activists is obviously an obstructionist move intended to pressurise and prevent rights groups from actively pursuing the matter both in and outside the court. The Court clearly believes that the incident merits further inquiry. An independent fact-finding by a civil rights team is a civil society initiative in furtherance of the same. The registering of cases against the activists seems highly motivated and hints that a cover-up operation seems to have been already set in motion.
PUDR demands that:
- An independent inquiry in which the AP police has no role as they are the accused.
- The concerned policemen be booked under Sec. 302.
- The charges against the 12 team members be dropped immediately
Megha Bahl, Sharmila Purkayastha