There are increasing reports of Right to Information activists being threatened for seeking information from public authorities as they seek to expose corruption and wrong doing.
Since the Right to Information Act came into force in October, 2005, media reports show that there have been not less than 68 cases of murder, more than 165 cases of physical assault (sometimes multiple attacks against the same individual) and more than 180 cases of intimidation and threats. There may be many more as often vernacular media reports do not figure in the detailed analysis of such events.
Thus, for example, CHRI documents on The Hall of Shame: Mapping Attacks on RTI Users uses English language media reports which are accessible through Google News Alerts. Many more cases of threats and even assault probably go unreported in the media. CHRI’s own preliminary study has shown that even a first time information seeker is potentially in danger of being attacked or threatened depending upon the nature of wrongdoing that the RTI application seeks to uncover.
Perturbed by the growing phenomenon of attacks on RTI activists, the Central Information Commission has decided to directly summon pending information requests of victims of such attacks. In this manner, the CIC feels such direct disclosure of the information in accordance with provisions of the law would be protective of those threatened or attacked. Several State Information Commissions also follow this procedure aimed at frustrating the motives of the attackers. Through its Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, the National Human Rights Commission has adopted a policy of inquiring into complaints of such cases of attacks.
Experience shows that investigation into complaints of attacks under the watchful eye of the NHRC helps identify conspirators in addition to the actual perpetrators of attacks. However, the NHRC closes a case as soon as it receives reports of completion of investigation in such cases, on the presumption that the trial will be conducted in courts and that process does not require monitoring. However, in celebrated cases like the Satish Shetty murder case in Maharashtra, the trial itself cannot proceed because the police are unable to marshal adequate prosecutable evidence against the accused.
Very little is known about the action taken by the law enforcement authorities in most other cases of attacks on RTI users. Thus, there is extensive scope to document the challenges of attacks on RTI activists through a robust research study
To enable such research and documentation, CHRI is offering a one four-month fellowship for the purpose of documenting the progress made in cases of murder of RTI activists, focussed on the state of Maharashtra. During this period, the selected candidate will be required to undertake field level research to document:
* The circumstances in which the murders occurred
* The response of the law enforcement authorities such as the police and the courts in investigating and prosecuting the accused
* The outcome and current status of criminal proceedings
* The current state of transparency of the information that was sought by the victims
1. Focus State: Maharashtra (16 murders reported so far)
2. Number of cases to be documented: at least five cases of fatal assaults (to be selected in consultation with CHRI)
3. Timeline of the Fellowship: four months (July to October, 2018)
4. Eligibility criteria: The ideal candidate must:
5. Deadline for submission of applications: one week from the date of release of this call for applications.
6. A Selection Committee comprising of the Chair of CHRI, the International Director, the programme head as well as two senior journalists will pick the final candidate. The Committee’s recommendations would be final.
7. Interested candidates may send their CV, names and contact details of two references who can vouch for their skills, experience and accomplishments and a writing sample indicating their investigative research and documentation skills to firstname.lastname@example.org