AI index: ASA 20/023/2009
23 December 2009
India: Chhattisgarh authorities must stop torture and arbitrary
arrests of peace activists and human rights defenders
Amnesty International urges authorities in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh to
immediately stop the torture and arbitrary arrest of peace activists and human rights defenders
belonging to the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) and drop all politically motivated charges
against VCA member Kopa Kunjam, who was arrested on 10 December. The government must
investigate reports of torture immediately, and bring those responsible to justice.
The VCA, a group professing the Gandhian ideology of non-violence, has been campaigning for
the last four years against human rights abuses of Adivasi communities in the ongoing armed
conflict in Chhattisgarh. The VCA also works for the return and resettlement of some 10,000
Adivasis who have been internally displaced by the conflict between the security forces and
the Salwa Judum, a militia widely believed to be supported by the state government, and the
armed opposition group the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
On 10 December, the Chhattisgarh state police arbitrarily arrested Kopa Kunjam and Alban
Toppo, a lawyer working with the New Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network (NRLN) at
Dantewada. They were taken first to the Dantewada police station and then to the Bhairamgarh
police station in the neighbouring Bijapur district.
Alban Toppo reported that the police tortured him and Kopa Kunjam that night at the
Bhairamgarh police station. They were beaten with thick bamboo sticks and rubber canes for
30 minutes. Toppo was forced to sign a letter stating that they had come to Bhairamgarh
police station of their own accord. As a result of the torture, Toppo sustained injuries on his
right elbow, biceps and back, causing severe pain and swelling. He could not move his hands
and back because of the pain. Kopa Kunjam sustained serious injuries on his chest, back and
leg, which left him unable to walk.
Although Toppo was released that night, he remained at the police station, as he had no
means of returning home. Accompanied by police personnel, he was able to return the next
morning. On 12 December, Kopa Kunjam appeared before a local court where he was charged,
under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, with the murder of Punem Honga, a local leader
and member of the Salwa Judum, who had been abducted by the Maoists on 2 June 2009.
Amnesty International believes that Kopa Kunjam is being targeted because he exposed
human rights violations by the security forces, including the extrajudicial executions of 15
Adivasis at Singaram on 8 January and three Adivasis in front of the Matwada police station on
18 June 2009.
Amnesty International has received further reports that the Chhattisgarh police disrupted a
peace march organized by the VCA on 14 December at Dantewada. On that day, the Kanker
police prevented a group of 30 activists from proceeding to Dantewada and forced them to
return to the state capital, Raipur, citing security problems. The VCA is now planning to hold
the peace march on 25 December.
The arbitrary detention of the VCA activists clearly violates India's Supreme Court guidelines
issued in the D. K. Basu vs State of West Bengal case and the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a state party. Article 9 of the ICCPR
guarantees the right to liberty, which includes freedom from arbitrary detention.
Amnesty International calls upon the Government of Chhattisgarh to:
drop all politically-motivated charges against Kopa Kunjam;
ensure a prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigation into the
allegations of torture and ill-treatment of Kopa Kunjam and Alban Toppo. Those
suspected of involvement including persons with command responsibility should be
prosecuted, in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness. Also, the
two victims must be awarded full reparation.
take all necessary measures to guarantee that human rights defenders are able to carry
out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of torture and harassment.
For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44
20 7413 5566 or email:
International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UKwww.amnesty.org