India: Arbitrary arrest of Christian human rights defender
Junash Pradhan, a well-known human rights defender and a tribal community leader belonging to a vulnerable minority (Christian) community has been working as a social activist for the last 22 years in Orissa state. His popularity amongst the local people led to him twice elected as member of the Daringibadi Panchayat Samiti (Block), first from 1993 to 1996 and then as the Chairperson from 2007 to 2012. He was also elected as the Head of the Greenbadi Gram Panchayat from 2002 to 2007. He has been involved in defending the constitutional rights of Adivasis (indigenous communities), Dalits, women and economically impoverished and socially marginalized communities.
His involvement in social, political, religious and cultural movements is noteworthy. His close association with government officials, political leaders, Christian priests and other community members is well-known. He played a very important role in bringing back peace and communal harmony during the Adivasi-Dalit riots in 2001 and anti-Christian violence in 2007 and 2008. For the last 4 years he has been working as member of the district Peace Committee under the leadership of the District Magistrate.
On 9th January, Junash Pradha was forcefully detained following a visit from local authorities accompanied by 30 OSAP (Orissa State Armed Police) members to his house at Linepara village. They informed him that the District Magistrate had summoned him for a discussion, and responded with force, dragging him into a police van and transporting him to an unknown place when he requested to drive to the District Magistrate’s office in his own vehicle. When he asked for the warrant order, his plea was completely ignored by the police.
From newspaper sources on 10th January, it was known to us that he had been taken to Baliguda jail in a very humiliating condition, being hand-cuffed and his face hidden with a black cloth. Days later, Mr J.N. Pankaj, the Superintendent of Police, announced to the media that the police had strong evidence of Pradha’s links with Maoists, attempting to defame the human rights defender. During his detention, Pradha underwent severely humiliating treatment, threats of harm toward his family and mental harassment.
According to police sources, the charges filed against him are as follows: Articles 120(b), 121, 121(a), 307, 302, 324, 326, 124(a), 34 of Indian Penal Code, Articles 3 and 4 of the Explosive Substance Act, Articles 25 and 27 of the Arms Act and Articles 16, 20 and 38 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Pradha has been outspoken in raising the issue of the arrest of innocent tribal members as well as in his opposition of the killing of 5 civilians in an ambulance blast blamed on ‘Maoists’ on 27th November 2010 in Brahmnigaon and the killing of 3 police constables in a landmine blast on 5th January 2012 in the Kotagarh area.
He is in no way involved with any kind of criminal activity during his 22 year career advocating for social and political rights and neither does he have any links with the banned Maoist outfit, the CPI, not to mention having any affiliation with any terrorist or banned organization. Rather he is a local leader of the Biju Janata Da, a member of the sub-divisional level body, the Forest Rights Committee, nominated by the Government in 2008, and has contributed substantially in popularizing the PESA, MNREGA and FRA acts among the tribal and Dalit communities in the district. He has never possessed any lethal weapon such as guns and no weapon was found at the time of his arrest. There is not a single instance of him or any of his family members being directly or indirectly involved in any type of explosion.
He was preparing to contest for the Samiti member post and was due to file his nomination on 12th January 2012 before he was arrested and thus denied his right as a citizen to contest in the elections.
For more information about this case download the attached news articles and documents.
Latest update: Junash Pradhan is currently still under custody and his bail application has been placed before the Odisha High Court. The National Human Rights Commission has also accepted a complaint that is currently under consideration. A newly formed Damana Virodhi Sammukshya (Forum against State Oppression) in Odisha has also organised a peaceful protest in front of the State Legislative Assembly building against the arbitrary arrest of human right defenders across the state.