news Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 05:30
    More than three months after the Andhra Pradesh police gunned down twenty alleged red sanders 'smugglers' in the Seshachalam forest in Chittoor, activists say that the AP police is harassing the witnesses in the case.   Seeking their presence for "further questioning," two witnesses along with their lawyers and activists of Madurai-based human rights organisation People’s Watch were taken to Tirupati in the early hours of Tuesday by the Andhra SIT.   "This is unnecessary and is only scaring the witnesses even more," Henri Tiphagne, Executive director of People's Watch tells TNM.    The three men Shekar, Elangovan and Balachandran earlier came out in the open as witnesses in April, questioning the Andhra Pradesh police's theory on the Seshachalam encounter.   "Detailed statements were taken last month in front of a Madurai court and the SIT head had personally called me and told me that the investigation was over. What is the need for a further questioning now?" he asks.   After recording the statements, the SIT had approached the court in the first week of July and was granted permission for further questioning.  Following this, the team had asked the witnesses and lawyers to assemble at their office in Thiruvanmalai on Monday.   "We were there at 10 am and I was responsible for Elango, one of the key witnesses. The police arrived a little later," says one of the advocates, who was part of the advocate team.   Here, the team was split into three groups, with each group accompanying one witness.   "The SIT arrived and we made our way back to Kannamangalam, which is Elango's hometown, in the evening. From there we spent hours retracing the steps of the entire incident, even though all this was already done once before," he adds.   Elangovan had earlier claimed that he had gone along with his friend Paneerselvam to do the job of a coolie.   On Monday, the lawyer had already taken permission from the court for the Tamil Nadu police to accompany them across the border. Elango's steps were retraced via Vellore, Thiruthani and Puttur, before they were whisked away to Tirupati.   "In Tirupati, at around 3 am, we were put in a guest house at the Sri Padmavathi Mahila Visvavidyalayam, where we were made to wait for hours without any clarification on what was happening. We were supposed to be taken to the DIG office for further questioning but were taken there instead," the lawyer adds.   After this, the Tamil Nadu police were allegedly sent away. "All this while, some of the Andhra policemen who were accompanying us were in civil clothes and had a gun tucked in plain sight in their waist, which intimidated the witnesses" he says.   Panic struck when Elango asked to use the washroom and disappeared for 72 minutes from 4 02 am to 5 14 am. Though, it seems that Elango was not harassed, the large gap in time had the lawyer concerned.   "By 8 30 am the group carrying the others along with second witness Shekar arrived and the police let us all go, as even the media started arriving." he adds.   Shekar's group got through the 'further questioning' without any untoward incidents.   "We were cooperative because we have nothing to hide but this amounts to harassment.We will fight this in court legally as the SIT only had permission to take them to the DIG office in Tirupati and not anywhere else," Henri adds.   The third witness Balachander refused to enter the Andhra Pradesh border claiming that he did not want to go to the place where his father was killed. He also alleged that his own life might be in danger in the state.   The duo are now back with the lawyers and the team of activists in Vellore.