Concerned citizens and activists have reported the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders Soneshwar Narah and Pranab Doley of the Jeepal Krishak Shramik Sangha (JKSS), a farmers’ rights organization, by the Bokhkhat Police Station in Golaghat, Assam. While they were summoned to the police station on the pretext of an inquiry into a complaint filed by them on April 6, they were instead arrested on the basis of a First Information Report (FIR) filed 2 years prior in June 2018 and were taken to Golaghat jail.
Pranab Doley is the Secretary of the Jeepal Krishak Shramik Sangha and has been fighting for the rights of peasant and indigenous communities in Assam. Soneshwar Narah is the convener of the organization.
Doley and Narah were arrested on April 7, and citizens and other activists have written to Sarbananda Sonowal, the Chief Minister of Assam, demanding their unconditional release. The letter asking for endorsements and support for their release reads, “The circumstances under which they were arrested, imprisoned without an immediate bail makes the intention behind their arrest extremely suspicious and their arrest itself a violation of basic human rights and an attempt to suppress voices which are raising serious issues in these difficult times brought about by Covid-19.”
The letter states that a day before their arrest, Pranab and Soneshwar had sent a letter to the CM asking for a high-level probe in a scam related to siphoning off of 800 quintals of rice from the public distribution system (PDS) in Kaziranga Cooperative Society and Golaghat’s Community Cooperative Society. The letter reads, “On the day of the arrest Pranab and Soneshwar were called by the Police officials to the Bokakhat police station to submit written statements pertaining to their police complaint against Kaziranga Cooperative Society filed earlier at the same police station. However, without any prior information or warrant they were arrested as soon as they arrived at the police station.”
The police claim that these arrests were made under a case pending since 2018 when they were charged for “deterring a police personnel for discharging his duty.” The move is especially surprising given that state governments are tryong to decongest jails amid the Covid-19 outbreak. The letter states, “This is indeed surprising that two people raising a serious concern about corruption should be arrested in a 2 year old case in these times when even the Supreme Court of India has asked the states to decongest the prisons to avoid Covid -19 outbreak. Bokakhat Police had numerous opportunities to interact and investigate both Narah and Doley who have been in touch with District law enforcement in the last two years. In view of this prisoners have been released from prisons across the state. It is difficult to believe under these circumstances that Pranab and Soneshwar’s arrest has anything to do with any issue other than the PDS scam.”
The letter further reads that both, Narah and Doley, have been active during the lockdown, trying their best to help by providing essential commodities to those in need, especially when PDS rations are coming in irregular supply.
Through the letter, the citizens have urged the CM to intervene in the matter where the local police are misusing the law to silence the voice of human rights defenders who are bringing up the issue related to critical food for the most underprivileged in these extremely difficult times.
The entire letter may be read and signed below.