The Women’s Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD-IC) is a resource and advocacy network for the protection and support of women human rights defenders worldwide. The Coalition currently has 25 members, including Isis International. For more information see: www.defendingwomen-defendingrights.orgWHRD-IC reports that: human rights defender and environmentalist, Ms Shehla Masood was shot dead outside her home in the locality of Koh-e-Fiza, Bhopal city, in Madhya Pradesh state by an unidentified gunman on 16 August 2011. Shehla Masood investigated violations of environmental rights carried out by companies involved in illegal poaching, diamond mining, and the timber industry. She was also involved in the Right to Information (RTI) movement, which was established in response to the entry into force of the 2005 Right to Information Act. RTI defenders use this law to put pressure on the authorities to disseminate information to the public on matters related to corruption and human rights violations perpetrated by the State. Shehla Masood also worked as a freelance journalist and contributed regularly to the website www.rediff.com.
On 16 August 2011, at 11am approximately, Shehla Masood was gunned down as she left her home to attend an anti-corruption demonstration organised by her and other human rights defenders which was scheduled to be held later that day at the Bhopal Boat Club. The demonstration was to be held in solidarity with a nationwide anti-corruption movement which is led by Mr Anna Hazare, a prominent anti-corruption activist and human rights defender. Although Shehla Masood died instantly as a result of gunshot wounds received, the incident has been officially registered by the Bhopal Police as an unnatural death, and not a murder. According to the newly appointed Bhopal Police Senior Superintendent, Mr Yogesh Choudary, five police units have been appointed to work on the case, although they will not begin their investigation until post-mortem results are available.
Prior to her murder, Shehla Masood had submitted RTI applications to the Indian authorities on matters related to corruption and wildlife conservation in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Under the aforementioned law, the authorities are obligated to provide information requested within 45 days to the complainants. Moreover, in the lead up to her killing, Shehla Masood was repeatedly harassed by, and received several threatening phone calls from, a senior official within the Indian Police Service. She lodged a complaint on this matter with Mr S.K. Raut, Director-General of Police in Madhya Pradesh State, as well as with two successive police chiefs in the state. In 2008 and again in 2010, she lodged complaints with the police regarding similar acts of intimidation and harassment.
Front Line believes that Shehla Masood's killing is directly linked to her legitimate human rights work, in particular her recent campaign against an illegal diamond mining project run by Rio Tinto, a British based transnational mining company, which allegedly poses a serious threat to the environment in Chhattarpur. Front Line also believes that her killing may be linked to her involvement in Anna Hazare's anti corruption campaign.
Front Line urges the authorities in India to:
- Conduct a full, impartial, and thorough investigation into the killing of human rights defender Shehla Masood, with a view to publishing the findings and bringing those responsible to justice in line with international legal standards;
- Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of other human rights defender involved in Right to Information and anti-corruption campaigns;
- Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.