Sunday, August 28, 2011

India : Another right to information activist shot dead

24 August 2011

Another right to information activist shot dead


Shehla Masood joins a dozen people killed in the last year for seeking information under India’s Right to Information Act
Shehla Masood joins a dozen people killed in the last year for seeking information under India’s Right to Information Act
A Tribute to Martyr Shehla Masood Facebook page



A woman activist who was a strong advocate of India's right to information law has been gunned down in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, making her the 13th right to information activist murdered in the past year, say Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and news reports.

Shehla Masood, who was also an environmental and anti-corruption activist, was shot dead on 16 August in front of her home as she prepared to go to a demonstration in support of jailed anti-corruption leader Anna Hazare. He has since been released from prison.

Over the past two years, Masood had been campaigning for the 2005 Right to Information (RTI) Act to be better implemented. Since her death, she too has attracted a lot of attention, with nearly 1,500 supporters on a Facebook tribute page already.

The act allows Indian citizens to file requests for information to most government bodies. Through RTI requests, activists have often uncovered illicit activities, making them targets of threats and violence.

In a January 2011 visit to India, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders said that "RTI activists, who may be ordinary citizens, have increasingly been targeted for, among others, exposing human rights violations and poor governance, including corruption of officials."

Masood joins a dozen people "apparently killed last year… for seeking information under the act," says RSF.

She had reported threats to the local police as early as January 2010 but nothing was done, RSF added.

"I think it is very risky and unsafe for activists to work for civil rights in India, especially in Madhya Pradesh," RTI activist Ajay Dubey, who is also based in Bhopal, said in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal".

According to the paper, Dubey is the founding member of Prayatna, an activist group of which Masood was a member. RTI requests have been their main weapon. Dubey says that he alone has filed more than 5,000 RTI applications, on issues ranging from industrial pollution to police reforms. One particularly successful RTI request led to the closure of illegal mines in his home state, Dubey said.

Dubey told the paper that he blamed Masood's murder on the lack of state protection. "There is no provision to protect activists; this puts RTI activists in particular danger since they often collect evidence that can cause problems for corrupt officials."

Dubey and Masood had both been pressing for the state government to implement a law aimed at protecting whistleblowers. In February 2010, Masood wrote about "the need for a Whistleblower (Protection) Act in India" on her blog.

According to "The Wall Street Journal", family members and fellow activists have filed a request to the Indian government demanding the Central Bureau of Investigation, the country's top investigative body, to probe Masood's death. The request is currently under consideration.

Source : IFEX , The wall Street Journal


Whistleblowers Demand Greater Protection After Masood’s Death


The murder of Shehla Masood last week stoked fresh fears among Right-to-Information activists, who renewed demands for greater state protection.

Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Survivors of 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy gathered outside the Prime Minister’s office to file a Right-to-Information petition in New Delhi in May 2010.

Ms. Masood, an environmental and anti-corruption activist, was shot dead outside her home in Bhopal, in India’s central state of Madhya Pradesh, on Tuesday. Ms. Masood joins a growing list of RTI activists who many say have been targeted because of the information they gathered under the law.

The 2005 Right-to-Information Act allows Indian citizens to file requests for information to most government bodies. Through RTI requests, activists have often uncovered illicit activities and this has made them targets of threats and violence. Many feel too little has been done to safeguard whistleblowers.

“I think it is very risky and unsafe for activists to work for civil rights in India, especially in Madhya Pradesh,” RTI activist Ajay Dubey, who is also based in Bhopal, said in an interview on Friday.

Mr. Dubey is the founding member of Prayatna, an activist group of which Ms. Masood was an active member. RTI requests have been their main weapon. Mr. Dubey says that he alone has filed “more than 5,000” RTI applications, on issues ranging from industrial pollution to police reforms. One particularly successful RTI request, Mr. Dubey said, led to the closure of illegal mines in his home state.

Mr. Dubey, who described Ms. Masood as “one of the leading activists in Madhya Pradesh,” is sure her death is linked to her activism, and suspects it may have to do with her campaign in support of tiger conservation. Others, including Manoor Sachdev, a friend of Ms. Masood, instead suggested her death may have to do with her anti-corruption work.

Police said it’s too early to say. “We are still investigating the case and we are not in a position to say what is the reason behind the attack,” superintendent of police Adarsh Katiyar said in a phone interview from Bhopal on Wednesday.

Mr. Dubey blamed Ms. Masood’s murder – the first of an RTI activist in Madhya Pradesh – on the lack of state protection. He is also concerned about what could happen to RTI activists like himself. “There is no provision to protect activists; this puts RTI activists in particular danger since they often collect evidence that can cause problems for corrupt officials.”

Mr. Dubey says he’s pressing the state government to implement a law aimed at protecting whistleblowers. This is something Ms. Masood herself had been campaigning for — in February last year, she wrote about “the need for a Whistle-blower (Protection) Act in India” on her blog.

Family members and fellow activists have filed a request to the Indian government demanding the Central Bureau of Investigation, the country’s top investigative body, to probe Ms. Masood’s death. The request is currently under consideration, a spokesman for the Madhya Pradesh government said Friday.

– Vibhuti Agarwal contributed to this post.

You can follow Ms. Stancati on Twitter @margheritamvs.