The Chhattisgarh Police have booked Adivasi rights activist Bela Bhatia and Adivasi leader Soni Sori for violating the Model Code of Conduct during a protest, on September 16, against an alleged fake encounter in the region, Hindustan Times reported on Saturday. Sori is also a leader of the Aam Aadmi Party.

“Bela Bhatia and Soni Sori instigated tribals from far-flung villages to protest and gherao police station Kirandul, in spite of Section 144 CrPC in place because of bye-poll [in Dantewada Assembly seat on September 23],” Superintendent of Police Abhishek Pallava told the newspaper. “The protest caused an obstruction in working of the police station, so FIR has been registered.”

Two suspected Maoists identified as Lachu Mandavi and Podiya Sori were killed in an encounter on the intervening night of September 13 and 14. According to the police, they were were commanders of the Malangir area committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Two days later, about 150 villagers, along with Bhatia and Sori, protested against the encounter. They claimed Mandavi and Podiya were innocent villagers and not members of the banned outfit. They also demanded that a villager identified as Ajay Telam, who was detained on September 13, be released or produced in court, The Indian Express reported. The police alleged that the group raised slogans in violation of the Model Code of Conduct.

Bhatia accused the police of muzzling dissent and demanded an inquiry into the encounter. “The police have chosen to be vindictive,” the actvist told Hindustan Times. “We have been wrongly accused of instigating and mobilising the few hundred people who had come on their own volition to Kirandul police station to protest against the fake encounters and to secure the release of Ajay Telam from illegal police custody.”

She said the “government must remember that by taking short cuts in the shape of fake encounters and quelling nonviolent dissent it is aggravating the problem not solving it”.

Police officer Abhishek Pallava claimed Ajay Telam had “clarified facts” in a statement on September 16.