May 28, 2018
Calling for an immediate investigation by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) into the police firing that killed 13 protesters at the Sterlite Copper plant in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) condemns the continuing repression of civil liberties and curbs on freedom of assembly even a week after the incident.
CHRI stresses special heed should be given to media reports and videos which show that the police had opened fire on the protestors. No warning, as mandated by police rules and standing orders, was given. Witnesses and video footage confirm that shots were fired from carefully positioned vantage points by people in plainclothes.
While prohibitory orders banning assembly of more than four people imposed on May 24th were lifted at 8 am yesterday, reports from the city indicate that the police are arbitrarily picking up and detaining youth between the ages of 18-30 out on the streets and suburbs of Tuticorin.
We note that these follow the arrest of over 100 people in Tuticorin for rioting, damaging public property and assaulting police personnel. Cases have also been registered against Opposition leaders on the grounds that they defied prohibitory orders in place, coincidentally while they were visiting the injured in hospitals. A significant presence of police is amassed in Tuticorin while personnel in anti-riot gear continue to patrol the streets.
Sanjoy Hazarika, CHRI’s International Director, said, “The targeted nature of the firing on protestors, clearly evident in the videos, indicate a gross abuse of power. This is nothing less than the violation of the right to life. This needs to be investigated immediately, the gunmen identified, and an explanation provided by the police and administration of how they were allowed to harm the civilian population while there was a strong police presence on the ground”.
22nd May was the 100th day of peaceful protests against the expansion of the copper smelter of Sterlite Copper, a unit of the Vedanta Group, due to serious public health and environmental hazards. The firing occurred when close to an estimated 100,000 protesters were moving to the District Collectorate.
Two days later, police stopped hundreds of people protesting in Chennai against the firing, including prominent political leaders and human rights activists, from marching to the State Secretariat despite an absence of prohibitory orders in that area. The protesters were arbitrarily detained by police in a community hall for about three hours.
Maja Daruwala, Senior Advisor to CHRI, added, “The police and administration were duty bound to manage the protest with every care for citizens’ rights to peacefully express their concerns. The police and administration are to ensure peace, not to repress protestors. They cannot be seen to be taking sides. The deaths of over a dozen people will only exacerbate the situation of conflict and the sense of injustice that already has plenty of justification. Everyone responsible - direct or indirect - must be brought to book at the very earliest”.
For more information, please contact:
Programme Coordinator, Police Reforms, CHRI
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Ph: +91-9810727469