Ethnic Group In India Claims Repression from Anti-Terror Law

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - India's government is accused of using anti-terrorism laws against a tribal, non-Indian ethnic group, which has long been agitating for independence.

The Nagas people living in northeast India and neighboring Myanmar say the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), signed into law last March, has been used to interfere with their civil liberties.

The law allows anyone accused of terrorist activities to be detained for up to 180 days without charges being filed. The government may also confiscate property from suspected terrorists.

The law has come under strong criticism in India because it places the burden of proof on the accused person, allows witnesses' identity to be withheld, and makes confessions given to police officers admissible as evidence.

"Our people have come under lots of intimidation from Indian police based on the POTA," said Nepuni Piku of the Nagas Peoples' Movement for Human Rights.

He said it restricted free movement by Nagas within India, and that Nagalim - the region where the ethnic group is based and wants for an independent homeland - was effectively under martial law.

Piku was speaking in Nairobi, Kenya, where Nagas were participating in a recent U.N. conference on the rights of the world's "indigenous peoples."

He said that ever since the September 11 terror attacks on the U.S. last year, the Indian government has cited terrorism as a justification to impose harsh security measures against the Nagas people.

Indian forces were carrying out raids against communities in Nagalim, under the pretext of searching for terrorists, he charged.

The right of assembly is not automatic for Nagas, and political activism is banned in the area, he added.

India's home affairs ministry has described POTA as a law aimed at acting against terrorist activities and insurgent groups in various parts of the country.

Nagalim, an area located between India, China and Myanmar, has been under Indian rule for half a century, before which it was administered by India's colonial ruler, Britain.

In 1982, the Nagas Peoples' Movement for Human Rights filed a case with the
Supreme Court of India, challenging a 14-year old law that gave the Indian Army the powers of search, seizure and arrest and other repressive measures.

The court eventually ruled in Nagas' favor in 1997. Nonetheless, said Piku, some 200,000 Indian soldiers remain the Nagalim area, along with 100,000 Myanmar soldiers in the part of Nagalim falling within Myanmar's borders.

The Indian government and a Nagalim political council have signed a ceasefire agreement aimed at facilitating peace talks the Nagas hope will end in autonomy.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.