BeyondHeadlines News Desk
At approximately 10:15 am on 22 February 2015, human rights defender Mr Ajijul Haque was beaten by a group of unknown men at New Cooch Behar train station in West Bengal, allegedly in the presence of police officers. The human rights defender was then taken to the Cooch Behar Kotwali police station and detained for approximately eight hours.
Ajijul Haque is District Human Rights Monitor for Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), a non-governmental human rights organisation based in Howrah, Kolkata, West Bengal. MASUM works on a variety of issues, including combating illegal evictions, enforced migration, trafficking of persons and impunity for acts of torture. Recently, MASUM has been working to protect the rights of inhabitants of the disputed ‘enclaves’ of land on the border between India and Bangladesh in the context of a recent agreement between the two nations, whereby India and Bangladesh will relinquish their claim to enclaves within the other state’s territory. Over 50,000 people live in the disputed enclaves, and may be forced to move as a result of the agreement.
The assailants were awaiting the human rights defender’s arrival at the train station, and the attack was allegedly led by a member of the local Trinamul Congress party, the governing party in West Bengal. Ajijul Haque and two inhabitants of enclaves on the border between India and Bangladesh who were travelling with him, were taken to the Cooch Behar Jotwali police station at approximately 11:00 am. Reportedly, no reason was initially given for their detention, but after about five hours, the human rights defender’s legal representative was informed that Ajijul Haque and the two other individuals were being held under section 14 of the Foreigners Act. All three were released without explanation at approximately 7:00 pm, and the human rights defender was brought to Cooch Behar hospital, where he is currently receiving treatment for the injuries to his head as a result of the assault.
Ajijul Haque was travelling from Sealdah, West Bengal, where MASUM had held a seminar on 21 February 2015 on the Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves. The event was organised in the context of the release of a report detailing the preliminary results of an in-depth investigation by MASUM into the needs and priorities of the populations of 24 enclaves, with a focus on human rights.
Reportedly, a smear campaign has been launched against MASUM, claiming that the organisation is attempting to frustrate the political attempts to achieve a resolution to the issue of enclaves on the border between India and Bangladesh.
Front Line Defenders expresses its grave concern at the assault and arbitrary detention of Ajijul Haque, which it believes to be directly connected to his peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in India to:
1. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Ajijul Haque;
2. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the assault and arbitrary detention of Ajijul Haque, as well as the smear campaign against MASUM, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.