Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Press Statement

The Solidarity Committee has been formed on the initiative of Dr (Col) Lakshmi Sahgal after she read of the terrible conditions of detention of 34 Burmese freedom fighters in Presidency jail in Kolkata. The 34 Burmese freedom fighters have been kept under detention from February 1998. The Indian armed forces have claimed that these men are a major gang of international gun runners who were bringing arms for India’s insurgents operating in the North East. The case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) but the CBI did not file any charge sheet for six and half years.

We have been shocked to learn about the conditions of detention in which these men have been kept. After their arrest they were taken to Campbell Bay where they were deprived of even basic amenities such as toilets and water. Then they were shifted to the jail in Port Blair where they were denied even their rights as undertrials and then they were shifted to mosquito-infected, unhygienic barracks without adequate toilets and water. Now they are lodged in Presidency jail where once again they are being subjected to indignities, which even convicted criminals are not. We believe these men to be freedom fighters whose right to dignity and human rights must be safeguarded and they must be given the respect due to political prisoners.

The Burmese men under detention were mostly Arakan and Karen who were involved in the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. In the Solidarity Committee’s publication: ‘Why are Burma’s Freedom Fighters Imprisoned in India?’ the story of each of these Burmese freedom fighters has been given on the basis of affidavits of these men.

As Dr (Col) Lakshmi Sahgal states in her Foreword: “Even these few paragraphs on the lives of these men give us a glimpse of the extent of human rights violations and repression by the military junta. It also gives us a picture of the bravery and courage of these young people who joined the resistance at a great risk of their lives.” According to investigations done by the media at the time and also the sworn statements by the detained Burmese detenus the Arakan insurgents were helping the Indian intelligence agencies by providing them with “information on the movement of Chinese fishing boats in Burmese waters because these fishermen were being used as spies by the Chinese Government to spy on Indian military and naval positions.”

The publication includes the Open Letter to the West Bengal Chief Minister signed by some of the best-known Bengal intellectuals appealing that the Burmese prisoners be treated with dignity. The signatories to the letter included film maker, Mrinal Sen, writer Mahasweta Devi, member of National Commission for Women, Malini Bhattachrya and former Finance Minister of West Bengal, Ashok Mitra.

It was on the intervention of these intellectuals that the West Bengal Government withdrew the order directing that the trial be conducted inside the jail instead of in open court. The trial will begin in Kolkata on March 21, 2007 with the prosecution producing its witnesses.

Surendra Mohan
6th March 2007, New Delhi

Contact number: 011-26152680