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25 May 2010

Following reports of arrest and torture of farmer and rural worker activists in Punjab under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi (PUDR) and the Sangrur district unit of the Association For Democratic Rights, Punjab (AFDR) sent a fact-finding team.

The team met one of those arrested, Mr. Surjeet Singh Phool, President of the BKU Krantikari. It interviewed many residents of Sangrur and the surrounding villages related to the arrest of Mr. Sanjiv Kumar, district President of the Krantikari Pindu Mazdoor Union. The team also met the DSP at Dhuri and the SHO of the Sangrur City Police Station.

Following are the main findings and conclusions of the team.

1. The Organisations under Attack

The organisations that are being brought under the scanner today are well-known for consistently leading people’s struggles on the issues of farmers and the rural poor. The BKU Krantikari and its President Mr. Surjit Singh Phool has a long history of raising farmer’s issues such as support price for food grains, against rural indebtness, against arrest of peasants for default on bank loans, against corruption in grain purchase, etc.

The Krantikari Pindu Mazdoor Union (KPMU) has been active in settling dispute of workers with employers, in getting dalit labourers the right to gain panchayat land on lease, for employment under NREGA and for homestead land for the landless. The ceaseless efforts of Mr. Sanjiv Kumar, it’s district president, are well recognised by the rural and workers in the villages.

None of the issues or the forms of struggle adopted by these organisations is unlawful. Moreover, the systematic attack on these organisations today threatens to erode the gains that the people have made through years of struggle.

2. Glaring Discrepancies

The police account of the arrest of Sanjiv Kumar on 16 May 2010 shows glaring discrepancies that make the story unbelievable.

a) Sanjiv Kumar is claimed by the police to have been arrested on the tip off by an informer and arrested outside Benra village. Eye witnesses from the village contradict the police version. They state that Sanjiv Kumar was arrested from a house in Benra village. He was at that the time campaigning for a mass meeting against the cut in free power facility for agrarian workers families.

b) The police claim that large quantity of written materials was recovered from Mr. Sanjiv Kumar at the time of his arrest. This is again contradicted by eye witnesses who state that Sanjiv Kumar did not have any bag with him when the police forcibly pushed him in the police vehicle at Benra.

c) Three hours after the arrest, policemen from the city police station, Sangrur raided the house of Mr. Sanjiv Kumar. This is confirmed by the landlord who was present when the police broke the lock of the house. The police took out three bags (bori), one trunk, and one bundle tied up in a sheet. No panchnama was prepared and all this was done in the absence of the accused. The DSP Dhuri denied any knowledge of the raid. The SHO city police station also denied knowledge even though the policemen are identified by eye-witnesses as belonging to the city police station.

These happenings clearly establish the intent of the police to distort facts to suit its purpose. The police has also lied to the court that “no lock has been put on the house of the accused and no articles have been taken out”.

3. CIA Staff and JIC, Amritsar: Torture Centres

Mr. Surjit Singh Phool was picked up from the Rampura Phool court where he had gone to attend a hearing in another case on 17 November 2009. He was forcefully pushed into the police vehicle though he was not evading arrest. Police obtained his custody for nine days and he was taken to the Joint Interrogation Centre at Amritsar. His experience there was a series of barbaric tortures. He was given electric shocks on the earlobes and inner thighs; prevented from breathing by submerging nose and mouth in water; use of machines to stretch limbs beyond permissible limits to cause excruciating pain. He was also made to keep standing continuously for 2 days. He was then physically thrashed due to which he sustained serious injuries on the head requiring ten stitches. Despite such grave injuries, no action was taken against those responsible for the torture. Surjit Singh obtained bail on 10 February 2010 when the judge noted that the police had produced no evidence against him.

It was reported to the team that Sanjiv Kumar has also been subjected torture by the police by not letting him sleep for days on end. Despite Sanjiv Kumar reporting his torture to the court, the magistrate did not take any action in the matter.

The institutionalized use of torture needs to be condemned in the strongest terms. The law enforcers are blatantly violating the Constitution in letter and spirit. It is distressing that the courts are turning a blind eye to these barbaric practices.

4. Spreading Terror and Insecurity

After the arrest of the Sanjiv Kumar, the Sangrur police have been daily requisitioning the presence of a number of persons at the police station for the questioning. People accompanying Sanjiv Kumar’s pregnant wife to the detention have also been detained for questioning for long hours, this even without a notice. Those called for questioning have been inevitably advised stay away from the organisation else they risk CIA staff detention, a synonym for torture. This is leading to a sense of fear among the poorest section of the rural masses. Most such persons fear to go alone to the police station and consequently a number of people lose their daily earnings.

5. Use of UAPA

The salient features of the UAPA is that it defines crime through intent and not by the actions of the accused. Secondly, it creates a provision for banning of organisations. Further it criminalizes all forms of association with banned organisations. Each of these provisions creates such a substantial possibility of arbitrariness and suspension of the political freedoms enshrined Article 19 of the Constitution. The stigma associated with the law is designed to silence all protest against illegalities by the prosecution both in society and the judiciary.

Sanjiv Kumar has been charged under section 10, 11, 17, 18, 19 of the UAPA. It may be noted that the section 17, 18, 19 are wholly inapplicable. Each of these sections requires the commission of a terrorist offence. Hence they do not apply to the state of Punjab. The use of these sections is solely aimed at increasing gravity of the charges.

On 24 May, 2010, when the court decided to end the police custody, the police have filed on identical case against Sanjiv Kumar at Barnala district. Such filing of multiple cases concerning the same offence is not permissible in law. It is sad that the magistrate has permitted further police custody in this case, threatening more torture.

Our Demands

1. The CIA Staff and the JIC, Amritsar be shut down pending a judicial enquiry into their working.

2. The allegations of torture by the two accused be investigated and the culprits punished.

3. The charges under UAPA be dropped against the accused and charges, if any, be framed under normal law.

4. The glaring discrepancies between the account mentioned in the FIR of Sanjiv Kumar and the witnesses be examined without delay.

5. The current police investigation practice of directing all persons related to the mass organisations to present themselves at the police station be stopped.

Om Prakash  and Tarsem Lal