September 5, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
India: Kamayani Mahabal
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US: Asti Bhatt
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International coalition calls for the release of human rights activist and development worker Kopa Kunjam
An international coalition of more than 50 human rights and other organizations, including Amnesty International USA, Association for India’s Development (AID), Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS - Workers’ and Farmers’ Union), National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and People’s Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR) have issued a statement (available in English and 11 other languages - please see below) calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Kopa Kunjam.
Kopa Kunjam is a human rights and development worker with the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA), a Gandhian organization based in Dantewada. He was arrested on December 10, 2009 and falsely implicated in the kidnapping and murder of Salwa Judum leader Punem Hunga in June, 2009. The coalition statement says that the prosecution has failed to provide any credible evidence and has been unable to produce witnesses to testify against Mr. Kunjam.
In its statement, the coalition further notes Mr. Kunjam’s long record of documenting and exposing grave human rights abuses by the Salwa Judum and the government security forces. The statement also notes Mr. Kunjam’s work in the rehabilitation of the displaced adivasis (indigenous people) of several villages in the Bastar region.
Endorsing the statement, Kavita Srivastava, the General Secretary of PUCL said, "Release Kopa now!! The arrest was a means to silence all those who were questioning the violent ways of the Chhattisgarh State." She added, "The government of Chhattisgarh should investigate the atrocities documented and reported by Kopa Kunjam and other activists and bring charges against the perpetrators."
The Salwa Judum is a state-supported private vigilante force ordered to be disbanded by the Supreme Court of India in 2008. In a judgement issued on July 5th, 2011, the Supreme Court also placed severe restrictions on the Special Police Officers, most of whom are former members of the Salwa Judum absorbed into the state police force.
Mr. Kunjam has now been in detention for more than 20 months and is reported to have faced physical abuse inside the prison. His application for bail has been rejected by the trial court and the Chhattisgarh High Court and is now pending before the Supreme Court.
James Mutti, India Country Specialist with Amnesty International USA, another organization which has endorsed the statement, said, "The government of Chhattisgarh must drop these politically motivated charges against Kopa Kunjam immediately and ensure that peaceful activists can work and speak out without fear of imprisonment, torture or harassment."
The statement observes that Mr. Kunjam is only one among many social workers and human rights activists who have helped make human rights abuses in Chhattisgarh public only to face imprisonment on false charges.
The complete statement issued by the coalition is available here