Activists protest imprisonment of Indian journalist

By Sumit Galhotra/CPJ Steiger Fellow
Supporters of Lingaram Kodopi and his aunt gathered in New York’s Union Square on October 4. (CPJ/Sumit Galhotra)

A couple dozen activists gathered this past week in New York City’s Union Square to protest the imprisonment of freelance journalist Lingaram Kodopi and his aunt Soni Sori, who were arrested one year ago in India.

According to local human rights activists and journalists, authorities wanted to prevent Kodopi from publicizing the role of police in violence in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, where security forces and Maoists are at war. In April 2011, the 26-year-old journalist documented the destruction of houses during an anti-Maoist police operation in three Dantewada district villages and “recorded on video precise narrations of police atrocities,” Tehelka reported. Kodopi was charged with anti-state activities under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act and sections 121, 124A and 120B of the Indian Penal Code for criminal conspiracy, sedition, and waging war against the state.

The New York protest was organized by the Association for India’s Development and the South Asia Solidarity Initiative, and endorsed by groups like Amnesty International USA. Demonstrators gathered near a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

Prachi Patankar, a member of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative, told CPJ, “While based here we can internationalize the issue. Journalists–not just in India–but elsewhere face similar challenges from their governments.”  The event has sparked a sense of curiosity, she said.

Activists noted that Kodopi and his aunt have been tortured in prison.  According to Telheka, Kodopi was beaten and held in a police toilet for 40 days. According to Human Rights Watch, Sori has been sexually assaulted and beaten. The government has failed to take action against those responsible for their torture, and the two remain in custody awaiting trial.

“It’s a very dangerous climate,” prominent Indian activist Himanshu Kumar told CPJ at the protest. “Journalists can’t report the truth. And if they dare to report on the reality, the government accuses them of being a Maoist and gives them a hard time, and even imprisons them.” Only the journalists who report the government version can survive, Kumar said.

This is certainly not the first time that authorities in India have targeted the press for shedding light on human rights abuses. In January 2011, police arrested journalist Sudhir Dhawale, who documented human rights violations for the Marathi-language monthly Vidrohi. Like Kodopi, he was charged with sedition and waging war against the state and was also charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Dhawale’s supporters say he was detained because he was a critic of a state-supported, anti-Maoist militia active in Chhattisgarh state, a center of the violence between Maoists and the state. Dhawale remains imprisoned, according to media reports.

Soni Sori and Gautam Navlakha Vs. State of Chhattisgarh W.P. (CRL.) 206/2011

Human Rights Law Network



The petition was filed the Supreme Court of India because the Chhattisgarh police have made an attempt on the life of Petitioner, Soni Sori – a tribal woman from village Sameli in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. The petitioner also seeks a direction from the Court for the setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of police officers from outside the state of Chhattisgarh, to investigate the criminal prosecutions against her as well as her allegation made in her complaint sent to the Delhi Police regarding the Chhattisgarh police attempting to murder her on September 11, 2011.

The third reason is that witness in FIR 26/11 relating to Soni Sori is the Sarpanch of a village from Orissa who was arrested by the Orissa police and handed over to the Chhattisgarh police, allegedly signed a statement to the effect that he was an eye witness to the alleged exchange of money between Essar corporation and the Naxalites.

At the very onset, it is stated that the Petitioner fled from Dantewada, Chhattisgarh in the second week of September 2011, in fear for her life. She came to Delhi and gave instructions and on the basis of these instructions this petition was filed.  She fears that the Chhattisgarh police who are expected to follow her to Delhi will extra-judicially execute her as she has in her possession evidence to show that false cases have been registered against her nephew, Mr. Lingaram Kodopi, and herself. These false cases have been registered because the two of them refused demands made by the Chhattisgarh police that they act as intermediaries between certain corporations and the Naxalites. The Chhattisgarh police also wanted the petitioner to give evidence against her fellow villagers and to make false statements to the effect that they were Maoists.

As a result of their not giving in to the demands of the police, the police have filed a series of false cases against Mr. Lingaram and the petitioner. The casual way in which these false cases are prepared is set out in charts at pages …… and …… of this petition. The charts show that for different instances taking place at different points in time, the statements of the so-called witnesses have been prepared by cutting and pasting from what appears to be a template, even though the statements are supposed to have been made in entirely different contexts at different points of time.

It is also obvious from the tape recording done in a sting operation by Tehelka, where the policeman speaking on the phone admits their case to be a false one.   According to the prosecution case an Essar contractor was carrying money to allegedly pay the Naxalites, and approached the petitioner and Mr. Lingaram who were allegedly acting as intermediaries, and that the contractor and Mr. Lingaram were arrested near a market where the transaction was taking place and that the petitioner fled from the place.  The truth is, and this is confirmed by the policeman during the sting operation, that Mr. Lingaram was at his grandfather’s home when he was arrested. This single fact alone shows that the prosecution story is false.

Mr. Lingaram is particularly targeted because he came to Delhi at the end of 2009 and gave evidence at a public hearing organized by human rights organizations in Delhi on the atrocities against adivasis in Dantewada. While in Delhi, he completed a course in journalism and this apparently annoyed the Chhattisgarh police even further and made them apprehensive that he will use his recent training to report on police atrocities in Chhattisgarh. The police are clearly very apprehensive about the documentary evidence that Mr. Lingaram had obtained of the carnage in the three villages of Tarmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram, where hundreds of houses were burnt, people were killed and women raped by the police and other armed security forces, and into which this Honourable Court has since ordered a CBI enquiry. The Chhattisgarh police arrested him to prevent him from handing over the evidence that he had collected including video testimonies and photographs of the victims including the rape victims to the CBI.

While in Delhi, Mr. Lingaram also appeared on several television programmes where he recounted very passionately the pathetic situation in which tribals like himself found themselves. The police are constantly after the petitioner and Mr. Lingaram to turn against their fellow tribals and collaborate with the police on pain of victimization and having false cases registered against them. Both the petitioner and Mr. Lingaram resisted these efforts of the police to draw them into acting as police informers. Hence the filing of the false cases.

On 31.08.2009, the Petitioner’s nephew, Lingaram Kodopi was forcibly picked up from his house in Sameli village, district Dantewada, locked up, and physically and mentally tortured in order to pressure him to become a Special Police Officer (SPO).  When the members of Mr. Kodopi’s family and other villagers went to the police station, the police refused to accept that Mr. Kodopi was in their detention, but after the villagers persisted in their enquiries, the police stated that Mr. Kodopi had come of his own accord to become an SPO.  On 18.9.2009, Mr. Kodopi’s brother, Masaram Kodopi filed a Writ petition (habeas corpus) No. 5469/2009, in the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur, alleging forcible detention of Mr. Kodopi by the Chhattisgarh police. On 06.10.2009, the Hon’ble High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur directed that Mr. Kodopi be allowed to return to his family.

That the harassment of Lingaram Kodopi by the police continued even after they had to release him because of the above-mentioned order of the Court of Chhattisgarh.  Immediately after Mr. Kodopi’s release, his elder brother, Masaram Kodopi, was picked up by the police and detained for a day and accused of securing the release of a “Naxalite.” The police continued to threaten Lingaram with dire consequences and harass his family members, due to which, Mr. Kodopi decided to migrate to New Delhi, and further undertook the study of journalism at the International Media Institute of India, at NOIDA in the state of Uttar Pradesh.  An affidavit prepared by Lingaram Kodopi on 22.10.2009, describing the pernicious harassment by Chhattisgarh police, which had forced him to come to Delhi. Lingaram Kodopi also participated in a public meeting, titled the Independent People’s Tribunal on Land Acquisition, Resource Grab and Operation Green Hunt, where he described his own experiences of being detained and tortured by the police, and answered questions from journalists, jury members and audience about the situation of adivasis in the conflict-torn region of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh. While in Delhi, Mr. Kodopi also appeared on several television programmes where he recounted very passionately the pathetic situation in which tribals like himself found themselves.

That these cases are false can also be seen from the fact that the petitioner is a government servant and is the Residential School’s warden at Jabeli Ashram in Dantewada. She has been attending her duties every day and there are many witnesses to this. Yet in the charge sheets that have been filed, she is shown as an absconder. Things came to a head when she received a call from an unknown person that she should hide in the forests because the police were going to “encounter” her. She fled and a while later the police opened fire on her and tried to kill her. She managed to escape and came to Delhi for filing this petition before the Supreme Court of India.

Soni’s case is a typical case of tribal being caught in the cross fire between the Maoists and the security forces. Her father was shot at by the Maoists and his entire house looted on 14.6.11.  He is currently in the hospital and lodged an FIR.

So the petition was filed for an order or direction to the state of Chhattisgarh to produce all the FIRs and charge sheets with respect to Soni Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi. Also to setup a Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising of officers from outside the state of Chhattisgarh to investigate and prosecute in respect of the FIRs and charge sheets. The petition also asks for staying the arrest of the Petitioner, who undertakes to cooperate with the investigation and an order or direction directing transfer of all the cases pending against Petitioner and Lingaram before any court in the State of Chhattisgarh to any competent court in Delhi.

CAUGHT ON CAMERA – Chhattisgarh police official admits scripting case against tribals

The story of the Dantewada-based school teacher Soni Sori and her journalist nephew Lingaram Kodopi in many ways encapsulates the complex conflict that continues in Chattisgarh below the news-radar of the national media. The tribals increasingly get caught between the the security forces of the Indian State and the Maoists.
Lingaram Kodopi is a young boy from Chattisgarh, who was asked by the police to work as an informer against the the Maoists. On refusing he was locked up in a bathroom in the Dantewada police station for close to 40 days. When Himanshu Kumar filed a habeas corpus petition in the Chattisgarh High Court , Kodopi was released on bail. However, the police continued to harass him till the point when he came to Delhi and studied as a journalist for several months under the patronage of Himanshu Kumar. Then there was a terrible massacre and burning of three villages in Chattisgarh. Lingaram Kodopi who was now trained to be a journalist, went back to Chattisgarh and took footage from these three villages,the first hand account of the villagers and the way the huts were burnt down by the SPOs. The fact that Linga Kodopi has this footage appears o have become a source of worry for the state police. Their harassment of Linga and his aunt Soni Sori, who is a teacher in a government ashram in Chattisgarh, has gone up exponentially. A few weeks ago a constable in Dantewada asked Soni and Linga to pose as Maoists and and take a bribe from a Essar contractor B.K Lala. When they refused to do it, the constable forcibly made a call from Sori’s phone to Lala. Subsequently they caught Kodopi and Lala from their house, but reported that were caught red handed from the market exchanging 15 lakh rupees. Kodopi now is in jail but Soni Sori was forced to run away and take refuge elsewhere.

Talking from an undisclosed location, she called back this constable, a man called Mankad and asked him what was the truth of thew story. The phone call was recorded by Tehelka. Mankad admitted over the phone that Kodopi was arrested from his house, unlike what the police had earlier stated, and hinted that the arrest was a setup. He also told Sori to stay away and that their is no evidence against her. Sori, meanwhile, is on the run. She has three children in a hostel. One of them is a 5 year old. But the irony is that the maoists think they are informers. Somedays back they attacked Sori’s fathers house and shot her father in the leg. Her husband meanwhile has been in jail for close to a year now. This is the ground reality in Chattisgarh. The police of Chhattisgarh clearly doesnt want these stories to reach the people.


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