Chennai, Aug 5: Two rights group today demanded a "swift and impartial" probe into the alleged torture of environmental activist Piyush Sethia by the Tamil Nadu police and asked the Centre to recognize torture as a specific crime in Indian law and ratify the UN convention against it.
Observing that "shrinking" of the space for dissent in the country is a "worrying trend", Greenpeace India and Amnesty International India said that "persecution" of activists suggests an implicit decision to "prioritize profit over people" and "development over socio-environmental concerns".
"Authorities in Tamil Nadu must ensure a swift, impartial and independent criminal investigation into the alleged torture of environmental activist Piyush Manush Sethia in the Salem central prison," both the NGOs said in a joint statement today.
They said the activist, who had been in judicial custody from July 8-20, filed a complaint with the Salem police on July 27, alleging that he had been tortured on multiple occasions in prison. A medical examination conducted on July 23 by a private hospital stated that the activist had suffered a fracture of the right foot and tissue damage on the left.
"The circumstances under which Sethia and other activists were arrested and the disturbing reports of his torture in custody, must be immediately investigated.
"Additionally, the central government needs to ensure that torture is recognized as a specific crime in Indian law, and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture," said Aakar Patel, Executive Director at Amnesty International India.
The NGOs claimed that Sethia was arrested, along with activists Eesan Karthik and Muthu Selvan, on July 8 for protesting against the construction of a railway over-bridge at Mulluvadi gate in Salem. The activists were members of an NGO called the Salem Citizens Forum.
They claimed that the affected families had not been consulted about the construction and the land had not been lawfully acquired. They were arrested for "wrongful restraint", "assault or criminal force to deter a government servant from discharging official duty" and "criminal intimidation", the NGOs claimed.
"Persecution of activists in this manner suggests an implicit decision to prioritize profit over people and 'development' over socio-environmental concerns.
"The shrinking of the space for dissent in India is a worrying trend and one that civil society must come together to resist," said Ravi Chellam, Executive Director of Greenpeace India.