Indian RTI Applicant Arrested For Not Standing at Hearing

8 January 2015

An information commissioner in the Indian state of Tamil Nado had RTI activist Siva Elango arrested after he refused to stand while appearing at a commission hearing.

Elango was appealing a decision when chief information commissioner K.S. Sripathi insisted that he stand when replying to his questions.

Elango replied that there was no rule preventing a petitioner from remaining seated during enquiry.

Sripathi refused to hear Elango unless he stood up. Sripathi asked him to leave. Elango refused to and continued sitting.

Sripathi lodged a complaint with the police, who arrested Elango. He was remanded to judicial custody for 15 days. Elango is president of the nongovernmental organization Satta Panchayat Iyakkam.

Former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi told The Deccan Chronicle that the requirement to stand was “unconventional.” “Most central commissioners ask petitioners to remain seated during the hearing,” he added.

On his Facebook page, Gandhi wrote: “I feel this is an insult to the sovereignty of the citizen. Every citizen must get the right to sit when deposing before any judicial or quasi-judicial authority. An insistence that a citizen must stand in such situations is feudal and an insult to the dignity and respect to human rights.”

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said it was “shocked” by the arrest.

“This incident highlights once again the trend of disrespecting people who appear before Information Commissions,” CHRI said in a statement, adding, “In other incidents Commissioners have been known to refuse the appellants adequate opportunity to explain their case or shout them down and intimidate them.”

Venkatesh Nayak, Coordinator, Access to Information Programme in CHRI stated that  “causing criminal cases to be filed against citizens exercising lawful remedies will undoubtedly create a further chill in the processes of accessing information. Already the media has reported on the poor rate of disposal of appeals and complaints in the Tamil Nadu State Information Commission. Intimidation of appellants will only diminish their faith in the ability of the Commission to redress their grievances quickly and effectively.”

Plans for protest sit-in were being made.

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