New Delhi/Bengaluru : Authorities in Tamil Nadu must ensure a swift, impartial and independent criminal investigation into the alleged torture of environmental activist Piyush Manush Sethia in the Salem central prison, Amnesty International India and Greenpeace India said today in a joint statement.
The activist, who had been in judicial custody from 8 to 20 July, filed a complaint to the Salem police on 27 July, alleging that he had been tortured on multiple occasions in prison. On one occasion, he said, several jail personnel forced him to lie down with his face turned to the ground, pressed down with their boots on his legs, and hit him with batons on the soles of his feet.
A medical examination conducted on 23 July by a private hospital stated that the activist had suffered a fracture in his right foot and tissue damage in his left foot.
“The circumstances under which Piyush Sethia and other activists were arrested, and the disturbing reports of his torture in custody, must be immediately investigated,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director at Amnesty International India, “Additionally, the central government needs to ensure that torture is recognized as a specific crime in Indian law, and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture.”
Piyush Sethia was arrested, along with activists Eesan Karthik and Muthu Selvan, on 8 July for protesting against the construction of a railway over-bridge at Mulluvadi gate, Salem. The activists, who are all members of an NGO called the Salem Citizens Forum, said that affected families had not been consulted about the construction, and the land had not been lawfully acquired. They were arrested for “wrongful restraint”, “assault or criminal force to deter a government servant from discharging official duty”, and “criminal intimidation”.
Eesan Karthik and Muthu Selvan were released on bail on 14 July, and Piyush Sethia was released on conditional bail on 20 July.
“Persecution of activists in this manner suggests an implicit decision to prioritize profit over people, and ‘development’ over socio-environmental concerns. The shrinking of the space for dissent in India is a worrying trend, and one that civil society must come together to resist,” said Ravi Chellam, Executive Director of Greenpeace India. “If authorities seek to silence community opposition to ill-conceived development projects, we must find ways to amplify these voices, and ensure that citizens’ concerns are adequately addressed.”
On 23 July, the National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the state government to respond within two weeks to the allegations raised by Piyush Sethia, which it said were “serious in nature and amount to human rights violation”. The Deputy Inspector General of Police, Vellore Range, who is currently investigating the case, could not be reached despite several attempts.
Torture violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty binding on India. India also signed the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1997, but is yet to ratify it. India’s Supreme Court has ruled that the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian constitution includes the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment.