Chhatradhar Mahato, convenor of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), is likely to be released in September along with three others after completion of his 10-year prison sentence in a sedition case. The Division Bench of the High Court on Wednesday commuted Mahato’s life sentence to 10-year imprisonment.
The leader of the PCAPA, a group backed by Maoists in West Bengal’s Lalgarh, was arrested on September 26, 2009 by police personnel posing as journalists who wanted to interview him.
The court on Wednesday also reduced the prison terms of Sukhsanti Baske, Sambhu Soren and Sagun Murmu.
Two others, Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee, who were awarded life term on sedition charge by the trial court, were acquitted for want of evidence and will be released after completion of formalities. The six, including Mahato, were convicted under UAPA in 2015 in connection with several cases between 2008 and 2011, including Kantapahari bomb blast in Lalgarh, Jnaneswari Express case and the landmine blast targeting then West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
However, Ranjit Sur, Vice- President of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, demanded the immediate release of Mahato along with the others. “We are not happy with the judgment. We expected all six of them to be acquitted because all the arrests were politically motivated… We demand release of all of them today giving their due remission for prison years. There is still a large number of political prisoners in West Bengal jails. We demand their unconditional and immediate release,” he said.
Mahato, lodged in Presidency Jail, was the face of the Lalgarh movement against the then Left Front government in the forest region of Purulia, Bankura, West Medinipur and Jhargram districts, together known as Jangalmahal.
He had successfully taken control of Lalgarh and established a quasi-government for a brief period in 2009 until security forces snatched back control after an intense operation in June 2009.