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Home > News > Report

Activists cry foul over 'Maoist' arrests, STF stands firm

Krishnakumar in Mumbai | August 31, 2007 20:25 IST

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The Anti Terror Squad of the Maharashtra police on Friday said they have used up the maximum time they could have custody of three suspected Maoists, who were arrested from Mumbai on August 19 and 20.

The police will now have to produce the three -- Shridhar Srinivasan alias Vishnu who the police say is a top national politburo member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist, Vernon Gonsalves alias Vikram who the police say is a top state leader of the CPI-ML, and K D Rao, an advocate -- at Mumbai's chief metropolitan magistrate's court on September 3.

"We will produce them in the court. We have got all the information we wanted and this is also the maximum custody we could get," ATS Chief K P Raghuvanshi told this correspondent.

Raghuvanshi, however, added that the police from two other districts of Maharashtra -- Gadchiroli and Bhandara -- and the Chhattisgarh police might move the court seeking custody of Srinivasan and Gonsalves.

Gonsalves's wife Susan Abraham, meanwhile, said she will post applications before the court pleading that Gonsalves not be taken outside of Mumbai. "We will also file a bail application and another application seeking the court to direct the authourities to conduct proper medical tests on the accused. When I met Vernon, he said they were interrogating him for 20 hours at a stretch and that they were also threatening to arrest me too if he doesn't cooperate," she said.

Mihir Desai, an advocate at Bombay high court, said such coercion also amounts to torture and is illegal. "The Supreme Court and various high courts have clearly said that torture is not allowed. But physical torture is not the only form of torture. Applying mental pressure on the accused is also a form of torture and hence is illegal," Desai said.

"The objective behind all that the police is to keep them behind bars for as long as possible," he added.

Susan Abraham, Desai and advocate Neelima Dutta addressed a media conference on Friday.

Desai said the arrest was a means the State has adopted to crush the organised movements against the government's policies. "The thrust of the State is to bulldoze anything that comes in their way of taking away land from the poor and displacing the poor.

"When there is a spontaneous movement against the State, it is easily crushed. But it is difficult to crush a guided movement because it has the support of activists and social workers. So the government's way of crushing it is to go after the activists.

"If at all these three have committed any crime it is that they have a political opinion� one which is not in line with the opinion of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] or [Communist leader] Sitaram Yechuri," Desai said.

Susan also claimed that the police did not even do a panchanama, a mandatory requirement, at the time of arresting her husband.

But Raghuvanshi denied this too. While he did not answer the question directly, he said, "We have completed all the legal formalities and we have presented the same before the court. We have done a thorough job," he said.

He also denied the accusation that no proper medical checks were being conducted on the accused. "We are bound by the court and we have been conducting medical checks on them every 48 hours without fail," he said.

Regarding the allegations of torture, he said the police did not believe in such methods. "First, as investigators, nobody wants to put their neck into such problems. These people are from a Left extremist organisation. They are Naxalites. We know very well that they won't yield to any such pressure. These are smart, educated people from the high level leadership that we are talking about," he said.

But those arguing the case of the three accused have been saying that they are activists (and in Rao's case, he is a practicing lawyer and the office-bearer of the Indian Association of People's Lawyers).

When directly questioned whether Gonsalves was a Maoist or not, Desai said: "It is very difficult for me to answer this question. All I can say is that from what I know -- and I've known Vernon for 20 years -- he was working with the adivasis in Chandrapur. And he didn't do it for fame or money. It was the cause."