On 24 June 2011 human rights defender and land rights activist Mr Akhil Gogoi was arrested at Guwahati Press Club, in the northeastern state of Assam, where he was addressing a press conference. His arrest follows a protest which took place on 22 June 2011 in the state capital Dispur, during which three protestors were killed and over 50 injured as police opened fire into the crowd. Akhil Gogoi is general-secretary of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and an activist using the Right to Information (RTI) Act. KMSS works with indigenous peoples in Assam in protecting and promoting their land rights. Akhil Gogoi is also an active campaigner against the construction of mega-dams in the state of Assam.
At approximately 2:30 pm on 24 June 2011, Akhil Gogoi was arrested by a superintendent of Guwahati City Police at the press office where he was addressing the media. During the press conference Akjhil Gogoi reiterated his allegation that the police had initiated the violence which erupted at the protest on 22 June and that the protestors had come to the demonstration to peacefully protest against forced eviction. The human rights defender has been accused of obstructing Government officers on duty, inciting violence and damaging public property. Following his arrest he was brought to Panbazar police station and it is feared that he may be subjected to ill-treatment while in detention.
His arrest came two days after the protest organised jointly by Brihattar Guwahati Bhumi Pattan Dabi Samiti (Greater Guwahati Land Rights Demand Committee) and KMSS. It is reported that around 6,000 protestors facing eviction from their lands gathered to protest peacefully and present a memorandum outlining their demands to the government. The protestors reportedly expected a high-ranking government official to receive the memorandum. When a magistrate arrived to receive the list of demands and asked the crowd to disperse, the protestors refused to leave. According to reports, the police then proceeded to fire shots and tear gas into the crowd killing three people including a nine-year-old boy and injuring over 50 others. It is reported that police brutality continued for several hours as excessive force was used to disperse the protestors.
Front Line believes that the arrest and detention of Akhil Gogoi is directly related to his peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights, in particular his work for the protection of land rights in the state of Assam. Front Line is concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of Akhil Gogoi while in detention.
Front Line urges the authorities in India to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Akhil Gogoi, and drop all charges against him, as Front Line believes that he is being targeted solely as a result of his legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;
2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Akhil Gogoi while in detention;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in India, in particular in North-east India, are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.