Justice in Thoothukudi – The Wait Continues.
10 October 2018 5:12 pm
On 22 May – the 100th day of the anti-Sterlite protest in Thoothukudi – police used excessive force on thousands of largely peaceful protestors. Many lives were lost and hundreds were injured.
Amnesty India campaigner Maria Soosai travelled to Thoothukudi and spoke with survivors who recounted the violence they faced at the hands of police personnel on that day, and in the following weeks. People were mercilessly beaten, harassed and even arrested by the police for protesting to shut down the Sterlite copper plant. Fearing further abuse at the hands of the police, some of the injured protesters were too scared to seek medical treatment at the government hospital, and a few avoided treatment altogether.
Over the past few months, civil society organisations, local activists and lawyers have worked tirelessly to bring to light serious human rights violations taking place in Thoothukudi, and to see that justice is done for all.
In June, the police arrested six protestors under the harsh National Security Act (NSA), which allows for detention for up to a year without charge or trial, denying detainees fair trial protections. The NSA has been used to target protestors and human rights defenders in India.
On 15 June, Amnesty India launched a public campaign ‘Demand Justice for Thoothukudi’, which is now more than 30,000 supporters strong. The objectives of the campaign were to petition the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to:
- Immediately release people being held in administrative detention under the NSA; and,
- Ensure effective investigations into both the incidents of 22 May 2018 and subsequent complaints of intimidation and harassment by the police.
On 14 August, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court quashed NSA orders detaining the six protestors, and ordered their release. Further, the High Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the incidents of 22 May 2018. While these developments are significant steps towards achieving justice for the victims, there is still a long way to go. People in Thoothukudi continue to live in fear.
The state government has been attempting to stifle freedom of expression in Thoothukudi, and the adjoining districts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari. News reports state that the police have been monitoring social media messages and have been asking people in Thoothukudi to leave WhatsApp groups that circulate information about the protest. Additionally, the CBI has recently initiated investigations against people belonging to organisations that were involved in the Anti-Sterlite protests.
The Tamil Nadu government has a duty to protect the human rights of its people. In the past few months, thousands of people across Tamil Nadu have supported Amnesty India’s campaign and made clear their demand for justice. The time has come for state authorities to ensure justice and accountability for the people in Thoothukudi.
Take action here.