On 30 January, the Kerala police arrested Jaison C Cooper and Thushar Nirmal Sarathy in Kochi and Kozhikode respectively. They were denied bail on 3 March, and continue to be held in judicial custody.

“Indian courts have stated on multiple occasions that mere possession of certain literature cannot be considered a crime. The National Human Rights Commission has asked for a report from the Kerala police on the arrests. Authorities must ensure that the two men are protected from torture and other ill-treatment,” said Shemeer Babu, Programmes Director, Amnesty International India.

The investigating officer in the case told Amnesty International India that the men had supported banned armed Maoist groups and also supported an attack on the National Highway Authority of India’s project office in Kochi on 29 January. The men were arrested under India’s principal anti-terror legislation, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

However, the investigating officer admitted that the only existing evidence against the men was that the police had found pamphlets and materials ‘supporting Maoist groups’ in their homes, including a book titled ‘Why Maoism?’ in Jaison Cooper’s home. The police also said that they had found in Thushar Sarathy’s house a document signed by a leader of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) armed group giving him power of attorney.

Thushar Nirmal Sarathy’s wife believes that her husband was arrested because he is an active member of several groups protesting against land acquisition by the state government. Jaison C Cooper has also been actively engaged in protests against land acquisitions and forced evictions.

In recent weeks, the Kerala police have detained several people across the state on suspicion of being supporters of banned Maoist armed groups. Some have been subsequently released.

“Human rights activists in Kerala must be able carry out their work without intimidation or harassment and authorities must take prompt action against those who violate their rights,” said Shemeer Babu.

In April 2011, the Supreme Court observed while granting bail to Binayak Sen – an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience - that “the mere possession of Naxalite literature does not make a person a Naxalite”.

In November 2010, the Gujarat High Court ruled in the Vishvanath case that “possession of material without there being any overt act or actual execution of such ideas by itself would not form or constitute any offence.” In October 2012, the Bombay High Court stated in the Jyoti Babasaheb Chorge case: “That the possession of certain literature having a particular social or political philosophy would amount to an offence, though such literature is not expressly or specifically banned under any provision of law, is a shocking proposition in a democratic country like ours.”

Background Information

The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - to which India is a state party - has stated: “No person may be subject to the impairment of any rights under the Covenant on the basis of his or her actual, perceived or supposed opinions… The right to freedom of expression [includes] the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds regardless of frontiers.”

Parts of the UAPA do not meet international human rights standards and are likely to lead to human rights violations. Amendments to the Act in 2008 extended the minimum period of detention of suspects from 15 to 30 days and the maximum period of such detention from 90 to 180 days. These amendments also avoided adequate pre-trial safeguards against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees, reversed certain evidential burdens of grave crimes and required, in certain circumstances, accused persons to prove their innocence.