Court Dismisses Criminal Charges Against Coca-Cola Protesters
Activists Demand Criminal Charges Against Coca-Cola
For Immediate Release
November 28, 2006
Nandlal Master, Lok Samiti +91 94153 00520 (Hindi)
Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center UK +44 7731 865591 US +1 415 336 7584 E: info@IndiaResource.org
London (November 28, 2006): All criminal charges filed against Coca-Cola protesters in India were dismissed by a court in Varanasi, in north India today.
The criminal charges were filed by the state government of Uttar Pradesh against four protesters after a major demonstration against the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj on November 24, 2004.
More than a thousand villagers had marched in November 2004 to Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Mehdiganj, on the outskirts if Varanasi, demanding its closure. The police force reacted violently, severely beating many protesters and detaining at least 350. 176 villagers, including 44 women, were held for four days, and another four protesters were held for 15 days in jail.
More than 15 criminal charges were filed against the leaders of the demonstration, which included the leader of the primary local group spearheading the campaign, Nandlal Master. Some of the charges were very serious - including arson, destruction of property, attacking police and Coca-Cola security guards - and carried stiff penalties.
The court heard testimonies from various parties, including security guards from the Coca-Cola company who alleged arson and destruction of property. The judge, Mr. Brij Mohan Gupta, did not find any evidence to support the criminal charges, and dismissed all the charges.
The criminal cases against community leaders were designed to intimidate and subdue the growing community opposition to the Coca-Cola company, according to community leaders. The pending criminal cases had prevented community leaders from obtaining passports, and those charged had to be present at the Varanasi court on numerous occasions at the court's behest, often on short notice. Mr. Nandlal Master's passport was confiscated by state authorities, preventing him from speaking internationally about Coca-Cola's crimes in India.
"We are relieved that the court has found no merits to the criminal cases against us. The truth has won. It is a travesty of justice when those who have inflicted violence on the villagers get to accuse the peaceful protesters of violence and arson," said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti.
"Coca-Cola is the real criminal as it steals water from us, poisons our water and soil, evades taxes and illegally occupies land. We demand that criminal charges should be brought against the company," continued Master.
Community members have been protesting Coca-Cola's bottling plant for over 3 years now, holding the bottling plant responsible for creating severe water shortages and pollution.
"This was a SLAPP suit - strategic lawsuit against public participation - by the state government to try and contain the growing campaign against the Coca-Cola company. It did not work," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization.
"If anything, it is the government of India which should initiate criminal charges against the Coca-Cola company as it deprives thousands of people of water and poisons the remaining water and land in India," continued Srivastava.
In a similar incident, all criminal cases filed against protesters against the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Plachimada, in south India, were dropped in August 2006. Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Plachimada has remained shut down for two and a half years because of the community opposition to the plant.
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