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S Vanchinathan, an advocate who practices at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, was arrested by the Chennai Police on Wednesday night, on grounds of instigating the crowd during the anti-Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi on May 22.
Vanchinathan, the state co-ordinator of the People’s Right Protection Centre (PRPC), was one of the lawyers providing legal aid to the protesters arrested by the Thoothukudi Police after the anti-Sterlite protests turned violent.
According to sources, the advocate has claimed that he was present at the spot on the said day only to provide legal assistance, and that he did not have any role to play in the violence that ensued during the protests.
The police has charged Vanchinathan under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including Sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapon), 188 (disobeying an order of a public servant), 353 (assault on a public servant), 506 (2) (covers criminal intimidation), and Section 3 of the Tamil Nadu Property (Prevention of Damage and Loss) Act, 1992 which deals with committing mischief in respect of property.
The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court had rejected anticipatory bail to Vanchinathan and Advocate K Hariraghavan on May 18, stating that the lawyers should not shy away from a police inquiry, according to The Hindu. The Court also said that the prohibitory orders that were put in place were violated by these lawyers.
Meanwhile, PRPC has published a statement claiming that the arrests and the FIRs registered against activists and lawyers is a way to suppress and intimidate the protesters. The statement says,
“The police are using these FIR’s and other first information reports as a tool to suppress the people’s movement and prevent the people from lodge complaint or deposition about police killing either before CBCID or Commission of enquiry by Retired Justice Aruna Jegadeesan. (sic)”
The organisation also demanded the release of all the protesters arrested after the anti-Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi took a violent turn on May 22, resulting in the death of thirteen persons.
“PRPC felt that FIR, Arrest and any type of oppression won’t stop us in joining hands with people’s agitation to ascertain their democratic rights. We called all the section of people unite to face and resist such atrocities of the state machinery. We demand the Tamil Nadu Government to withdraw all the cases against the people pertaining to Anti Sterlite Protest and pave the way for the release of the Anti Sterlite Protestors forthwith. (sic)”
The Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) has also condemned the arrest of Vanchinathan and has issued a strongly worded press statement which reads,
“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 press release also claims that such arrests are a means to scare and intimidate other lawyers from taking up similar sensitive cases. The statement goes on to say,
“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 has condemned this arrest unequivocally and demanded Vanchinathan’s immediate release.
The protest against Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi entered its hundredth day on May 22 and was marred by violence where 13 protestors lost their lives in police firing. A slew of arrests followed the incident. The contentious copper plant was ordered to be shut down permanently by the Madras High Court after the incident.