`Make torture punishable crime'

SALEM JUNE 26. Social fora and activists have urged the Government to make torture a punishable crime.

The activists also demanded early disbursal of compensation to "torture victims" of the Joint Special Task Force, which is hunting for the forest brigand, Veerappan.

They were participating in a culmination ceremony of the `Torture awareness yatras', here today, United Nations day of solidarity with victims of torture.

Scores of "victims of the STF" also took part in the programme, in which the activists raised slogans against the perpetrators of violence and demanded justice for the torture victims.

The `yatras', organised by the Campaign Against Torture (CAT), began on June 19 from Kanyakumari, Nagapattinam and Chennai. It covered 28 districts and met two lakh people. The main objective was to take the campaign to districts and block level areas, where the awareness among the people was `dismally low.' These `yatras', according to the CAT co-ordinator, C.J. Rajan, made them aware of their rights in a civilised society. Almost the entire Tamil Nadu was covered.

The selection of the Salem venue for culmination ceremony assumed significance, as villagers in near-by forests alleged that the STF had perpetrated atrocities on them and tribals. Many were maimed for life, while others lost everything. Even women were not spared," said Mr. Henry Tiphagne, Executive Director of the People's Watch-Tamil Nadu, who presided. He said the issue would be raised on the International forum.

The speakers, from Hyder Ali, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, to social activists stressed the need for a strong mechanism against torture, which itself was a human right violation. The meeting also demanded immediate repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and release of all detenus under the legislation. Non-officials members should be allowed to visit all places of detention, it said.

A signature campaign also was undertaken during the course of the yatra. July would be dedicated to focus on the ills of torture, corporal punishment in educational institutions etc. K. Markandan, former Vice-Chancellor, Gandhigram Rural Institute, released a book containing affidavits of the torture victims.

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