Farmers' Groups Plan National Campaign to Demand Release of Assamese Activist Akhil Gogoi

Gogoi has been in jail since September 13 and has been charged under the National Security Act.

New Delhi: The All India Kishan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a platform of over 150 farmers’ organisations from across the country, is set to take up a nation-level campaign to demand the immediate release of Assamese farmers’ rights activist Akhil Gogoi from detention.

Gogoi, who leads the popular peasants’ rights organisation Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) in Assam, has been lodged in that state’s Dibrugarh Central Jail since September 13. He was first picked up by the police on charges of sedition after he made a speech at a public rally in Moran, where he allegedly advocated the need for taking up guns to protect the rights of the indigenous people of the state. On September 25, he was rearrested under the National Security Act (NSA) while on his way to a local court for the hearing of his bail application. As many as 12 cases, most of which are old, had been included in the fresh allegations under the NSA.

AIKSCC national convener Sunilam, addressing a press meet in New Delhi on November 16, said a signature campaign would be carried out to demand Gogoi’s immediate release. He said on November 20, a campaign committee called ‘Release Akhil Gogoi’ would be formed on the sidelines of a national-level meeting to be held in New Delhi for land, forest and prison rights.

On November 19, a resolution on this would also be discussed at a convention to be held by the National Fishworkers’ Forum in Delhi.

AIKSCC has also been in talks with organisations like Amnesty International, People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Asian Human Rights Commission to take part in the campaign.

Speaking to The Wire, AIKSCC leader Roma said, “It is, after all, a human rights issue, and therefore we are talking to these rights groups for their support on the matter. We look at his detention as an act of political revenge by the Assam government. He has been put in detention on trumped up charges. The government is actually scared of his wide support. However, in a democracy, a government can’t behave like that, it can’t suppress the voice of dissent; therefore, his detention by misusing the NSA is illegal.”

She claimed, “Actually, the government by doing this has helped him increase his popularity even more instead of diminishing it.”

As per Section 9 of the NSA, the state government is to form a three-member advisory board “who are, or have been or are qualified to be appointed as judges of a high court” to try a person arrested under it. If the board reports that there is sufficient cause for detention, the appropriate government may confirm the detention order. In such a case, the person detained will have to approach the high court for relief.

Headed by a retired judge of the Gauhati high court, P.G. Aggarwal, the committee formed by the Assam government to handle Gogoi’s case included senior high court advocates N. C. Das and Gautam Ujir. The committee, so far, has met a couple of times and has summoned various police and government officials related to the cases based on which the police has charged Gogoi under the NSA.

Gogoi also appeared before the advisory committee on November 3 at the Dibrugarh Jail. As per media reports, the committee was to submit its report to the state government on November 11, a day short of the end of the 49-day period within which it is to mandatorily complete the report as per the NSA.

Speaking to The Wire from Guwahati, KMSS leader Bhasko De Saikia, however, said, “Though media reports then said that the board will give its submission by November 11, there is no confirmation of whether it has already been done and what the report contains. There is complete silence about it. We have been denied any information about it.”

At the end of the 49-day period on November 12, AIKSCC held a farmers’ rally along with five other farmers’ organisations in Guwahati, which was reportedly attended by over 10,000 people. The leaders formed a delegation that visited the state to meet Gogoi in jail.

Later, addressing a press conference in Guwahati, Lok Sabha member from Maharashtra and AIKSCC convener Raju Shetty, part of the delegation, said, “On November 11, we wanted to meet Akhil in jail but were denied. Then I went to meet Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal who was in Dibrugarh that day to discuss the matter. But his security personnel said he was sleeping. Actually, the government does not want to talk about Akhil’s arrest. It is a violation of democratic rights.” He said he gave an application to the local deputy commissioner on November 8 seeking permission to meet Gogoi in jail on November 11.

So far, AIKSCC leader Roma has been the only one granted permission to meet Gogoi. “I met Akhil for about two hours on October 31,” she told The Wire.

On November 1, the deputy commissioner had also permitted Pradesh Congress Committee president Debabrata Saikia and Congress MLA Rujyoti Kurmi to meet Gogoi. Media reports, however, said the state government later suspended the jailor on the charges of allowing the opposition leaders to click photos of Gogoi inside the jail, which was against the jail manual.

The advisory committee had earlier said that Gogoi could, meanwhile, move his bail application in the Gauhati high court, which he did.

KMSS’s Saikia told The Wire on November 17, “The high court heard the bail petition on November 13 and the next date of hearing has been set for November 21.”

Update (November 18): The principal secretary of the home and political department of the Assam government issued an order late on November 18 on behalf of the governor  confirming the detention of Akhil Gogoi as per the report of the three-member advisory board set up under the National Security Act. The report said Gogoi would be in detention “for a period of 12 months with effect from  the date of detention (September 25) or until further orders whichever is earlier.

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