India urged to release environmental activists
Indian authorities must immediately release two activists arrested apparently for their work to protect local communities from industrial pollution, Amnesty International said today, after one of the men was found chained to a hospital bed while in custody. Environmental activist Ramesh Agrawal and Harihar Patel, who practices indigenous medicine, were arrested on 28 May in Raigarh town in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh after leading a campaign to protect local Adivasi (Indigenous) communities from pollution caused by industrial projects. The men have been held at Raigarh prison as a local court denied them bail on 2 June. During his detention, Ramesh Agrawal, who suffers from hypertension, was taken for treatment at a state-run hospital where he was chained to a bed. “Shackling someone who is ill to a hospital bed is inherently cruel and inhumane punishment that should never have been used on a detainee arrested for peaceful activism,” said Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.“It appears that Ramesh Agrawal and Dr Harihar Patel have been targeted for their work to defend the human rights of local communities – we’re urging the Chhattisgarh authorities to drop all charges against them and immediately and unconditionally release these activists.”A state police official has told national media that chaining Ramesh Agrawal to a bed was a mistake, but he believes there is sufficient evidence to continue holding the two activists. Chhattisgarh state police charged the activists with “circulating defamatory material”, “disrupting public order” and “causing alarm and panic among the public” during a public consultation held by the state pollution board at Tamnar village on 8 May 2010. The mandatory consultation was called to discuss plans to expand a coal-fired thermal power plant run by a private firm, Jindal Steel and Power. The two activists had objected to the proposal, citing concerns that the expansion would lead to the authorities forcibly acquiring land from local communities near the plant. Ramesh Agrawal had also successfully petitioned India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests to temporarily suspend the terms of reference for the expansion.“Instead of arresting those who speak out in defence of local communities’ rights, the Chhattisgarh authorities should make sure human rights defenders and environmental activists can carry out their legitimate, peaceful work without fear of harassment and intimidation,” said Madhu Malhotra.