An Adivasi (Indigenous) rights activist in central India’s Chhattisgarh state has been released after spending 29 months in prison on what Amnesty International has always maintained were politically motivated charges.
On Monday evening a trial court acquitted activist Kartam Joga of the last four charges against him, and he was released from Jagdalpur jail on Tuesday.
Amnesty International had named him a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully expressing his views, and campaigned extensively for his release.
After his release, Joga said messages of support sent by the organization’s members were “one of the key factors” which kept up his hopes for release.
He urged the release of seven of his fellow activists from the Communist Party of India (CPI) who he says have been targeted and jailed on false charges for peacefully defending the rights of Adivasi communities.
“Kartam Joga’s acquittal and release is a resounding victory for justice, but we join him in calling for the release of all those still held on politically motivated charges solely because they peacefully championed Adivasi rights,” said G. Ananthapamanabhan, Chief Executive, Amnesty International in India.
As a CPI member Joga was elected to a local self-government body in Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh’s thickly forested Bastar region.
After his arrest on 14 September 2010, he spent four months in Dantewada jail and more than two years in Jagdalpur jail.
The remaining charges against him – relating to alleged crimes committed in 2009 and 2010 – had already been dropped last year.
The charges had included collaborating with a Maoist armed group in the ambush and killing of 76 police officials, murdering a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), two explosions targeting a truck and a local government office, and an attack on a Congress leader’s residence in Nakulnar in Dantewada district.
Abuses and impunity in Chhattisgarh
Amnesty International believes that Joga was targeted as a result of his peaceful demands for accountability and an end to impunity for the human rights violations suffered by Adivasis during ongoing clashes. Since 2005, the security forces and the Salwa Judum civil militia have been pitted against armed Maoists in Chhattisgarh.
Joga was himself attacked and injured by Salwa Judum members in 2005.
Last year state authorities in Chhattisgarh were forced to dissolve the Salva Judum militia on the basis of a Supreme Court order that Joga and other activists had pushed forward in a bid to end impunity for human rights violations in the region.
From 2005-2007, Joga held village-level meetings to document human rights violations and abuses against Adivasis, including more than 500 unlawful killings, rape and other sexual assault, the burning down of Adivasi hamlets and houses and the resultant displacement of Adivasis from 644 hamlets