Sudha Bharadwaj, Vice-President,
Advocate, D. Suresh Kumar, Joint Secretary,
Indian Association of People's Lawyers (IAPL)
The Indian Association of People's lawyers (IAPL) condemns the arrest of Advocate Vanchinathan by the Chennai police in the early hours of Thursday, 21 June 2018. Following the brutal police crackdown in Tuticorin on people protesting against Sterlite Copper Smelter Plant in which 13 people were shot dead, Tamil Nadu Police has continued the crackdown on various people who have been associated with the protests against Sterlite Copper. This includes lawyers who helped with filing various cases against Sterlite.
The authoritarian and coldly calculated actions of the Tamil Nadu government to break down anti-Sterlite protests and smother the voice of people are highly condemnable and is unfitting for any civilised democratic polity. Advocate Vanchinathan has been the counsel for many cases filed against Sterlite by the people of Tuticorin and Sterlite protest groups. Advocate Vanchinathan was arrested in Chennai Airport for the Tuticorin incident in Crime no. 190 of 2018 SIPCOT Police Station under sections 147, 148, 188, 353, 506(2) and Sec. 3 TNPPDL Act. He is the State Co-ordinator of Makkal Urimai Paadhugaapu Maiyam (People's Right Protection Centre) and a practicing lawyer at Madurai Bench of Madras High Court at Madurai.
After shooting dead unarmed civilians in cold blood, the Tamil Nadu Government has gone a step further and is now putting the blame for the incidents of 21st May on public spirited lawyers who came to the legal aid of people of Tuticorin. It is important to note that the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court had initially directed the police to refrain from arresting Advocates Vanchinathan and Hari Raghavan till the hearing of their anticipatory bail application, and demanded that the Police produce material evidence that the two 'engineered' the violence. Vanchinathan and other lawyers were present in Tuticorin on the day to provide legal assistance and to facilitate talks with Government representatives. However on June 18th, the court dismissed the anticipatory bail filed by Vanchinathan and Hari Raghavan, merely stating that they cannot avoid interrogation.
All over India - in Bhangor (WB), Tuticorin (TN), Jagatsinghpur (Odisha), Raigarh (Chhattisgarh), Sanand (Gujarat), Singbhum (Jharkhand) or Gadchiroli (Maharashtra) – affected people and activists protesting against corporate land grab and environmental devastation are being attacked, implicated in false cases, and arrested under draconian laws. The latest trend in this is to attack the people's lawyers who are trying to fight corporates, whether as labour lawyers, environmental lawyers or lawyers challenging land acquisition and denial of tribal rights.
The arrest of Vanchinathan and continued intimidation of other lawyers, by Tamil Nadu police, who helped file cases against Sterlite is vindictive, cowardly and an indefensible act. These arrests are intended to produce a chilling effect, to scare other lawyers from appearing in sensitive cases challenging undemocratic and anti-constitutional policies and actions of the government. IAPL unequivocally condemns the arrests of Vanchinathan and demands for his immediate release.