Visakhapatnam: In an open letter to the Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court, members of the group Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) urged the court to protect lawyers and human rights activists who were helping Vakapalli gang rape victims from harassment by state agencies.

In 2007, 11 tribal women of the Kondh tribe were raped by 13 men of the AP special police force during a raid in Vakapalli in Vizag Agency. While reminding the court that the legal battle was fought since then first in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and then in the Supreme Court, and now in the SC/ST special court where it is in the final stages of hearing, the group wrote, "After a decade-long chequered legal battle, the Supreme Court in 2017 ordered that the case be heard by an SC/ST Special Court. Whether the High Court or Supreme Court, the judiciary stood by the victims all these years and has helped to institute a special court for hearing the case."

On 24 November, an FIR was filed at the Munchingipattu police station invoking the UAPA against V.S Krishna of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) and several others. The FIR accused Mr. Krishna of taking directives from Maoists and of goading the rape victims to make false accusations in the Vakapalli case.

The group claimed that such fabricated FIR negates the agency of women to be able to stand up against sexual violence perpetrated on their bodies and the mental agony thereof. "We are concerned about how the Adivasi women's long battle to seek justice against the terrible incident of gang-rape is being nullified by attributing the mass rape to lies instigated by the Maoists," they said.

The letter further stated, "Mr. Krishna of HRF, along with several civil society activists, have stood in solidarity with the victims of gang-rape of Vakapalli all these years, at great personal risk to themselves and to the victims. The long-drawn-out trial itself has been a testimony to the courage of the victims. Mr. Krishna and the others supported these victims as they belong to the poorest of the poor Adivasi communities."

The FIR was not just a tactic to intimidate Mr. Krishna when the Vakapalli case is in its final stages of hearing but a further attack and threat to all gang-rape victims who choose to speak up and seek justice in courts of law, WSS said.

The group urged the High Court to take cognizance of the threat posed to the HRF and other activists supporting the Vakapalli women. "Till a few years ago, witness protection was a matter of great concern. In recent years, those who stand by the victims, whether lawyers or rights activists, are also increasingly coming under threat. We appeal to you to ensure protection to the lawyers and to the human rights activists, who are aiding in the process of ensuring justice to the weakest and the most marginalised in our society, from harassment by the state agencies," they added.

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