“UAPA must be abolished”- Kin and Comrades of Political Prisoners Demand Their Release 

The provision for temporary bail must be employed even in the cases of UAPA or sedition because most of these prisoners are under-trials.

Prisoners
Image Source: TwoCircles. Net

The Orwellian proclamation “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” even though written in a different context, very well explains the conditions of Indian prisoners under UAPA who have historically been excluded from the legal principle of ‘bail not jail’.

With more than 2.58 lakh people dead overall, India has been struggling to survive in the face of the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic since March 2021. Several reports of COVID-19 outbreak in jails, most of which are overcrowded have also emerged.

In this light, the Supreme Court of India on May 8, ordered jail authorities to release prisoners who were given bail or parole last year to decongest prisons. However, just like last year, those arrested under UAPA including undertrials amongst others are exempted from the provision of interim bail and continue to languish in jails.

Prisoners in a Pandemic

To discuss the harrowing conditions in prisons during the pandemic, on Tuesday, kin, and comrades of several political prisoners charged under the UAPA in Bhima Koregaon and Northeast Delhi Violence cases were part of a webinar organized by the Delhi-based group United Against Hate (UAH), moderated by Apoorvanand, a professor at the University of Delhi.

Many of these prisoners including, Umar Khalid, G.N Saibaba, Jyoti Jagtap, Akhil Gogoi, Siddique Kappan, Varavara Rao have tested positive for COVID-19 in prison. Most of them could get tested only after approaching courts. Meanwhile, Sudha Bhardwaj, Hany Babu, and Khalid Saifi have been acutely ill.

United Against Hate
Image Source: United Against Hate

Nargis Saifi, Khalid Saifi’s wife shared that her husband, had severe COVID-19 symptoms for a week and the only medical assistance that he got was a set of expired Paracetamol tablets. When Khalid requested jail authorities for getting tested they replied that if they started to test everyone in the jail, a large number of the inmates would test positive and hence they avoided the process altogether. During their infrequent phone calls, Khalid told her that the cells in the jail were overcrowded with no provision of sanitization even if someone from the same cell had tested positive for COVID-19.

“Vo 15 din hamare liye kaafi khaufnak the (the fifteen days [during which Khalid was sick] were very scary for us.)” 

Nargis added that when she informed him about the death of Dr. Narwal, he became upset and extremely anxious thinking of his own seven years old daughter who has been waiting for him to come back home for the last 15 months. Khalid Saifi was beaten up in jail and had sustained physical injuries.

Talking about Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe, and Jyoti Jagtap of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), Rupali Jadhav, also member of KKM informed that they are allowed to communicate only with their immediate family members and lawyer with no in-person visits being allowed.

She added that food and medical arrangements in prison were inadequate and all three of her colleagues have been undergoing a lot of mental stress.

“UAPA Must be Abolished”

Dr. SQR Ilyas, while talking about the hopefulness in his son and activist-scholar Umar Khalid even in darkest times said that “Umar khushdili ke saath haalat ko face karta hai (Umar faces every situation genially)”.

He continued that in a democracy there should be no space for a draconian law like UAPA.“It must be abolished” because it provides unchecked power to the State. He questioned the major opposition political parties for their blanket silence on the issues of Northeast Delhi violence and the UAPA arrests.

Denial of medical treatment to political prisoners is not only the violation of their fundamental rights but also negligence of the State’s duty of care towards under-trials. Inside Indian prisons, away from the rights on paper, these violations have become the norm. – explained Shahrukh Alam, a Supreme Court advocate. 

Adding to the history of UP jail authorities’ mistreatment of prisoners arrested journalist Siddique Kappan‘s wife, Raihanath Siddique told that for one month after his arrest, Kappan was not allowed to contact anyone not even his lawyer and it was only when they approached the SC that he was allowed, legal counsel. Since then, “we have had to approach the courts for every single thing”, she informed.

Siddique Kappan
Siddique Kappan has remained imprisoned for seven months now.
Image Source: Bar and Bench

She said that from the day he was arrested his human rights have been continuously violated and now he is struggling to get proper medical care.

On UP Government’s accusation that Kappan has links with the Popular Front of India, she clarified that being a journalist he is generally in contact with people from several groups like CPIM, Congress, and even RSS but he is not affiliated with any political party.

“He did not commit any crime. He is even ready for a Narco test as the UP government has suggested”, she said

Mihir Desai, a human rights lawyer practicing at the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court, elaborated on the complicated and utterly unfair space in which UAPA prisoners live in prisons with very few legal remedies at their command.

It is said that for many trials themselves becomes the punishment but for most of the UAPA prisoners, the trial appears like a far-fetched dream, there’s just punishment. Jenny Rowena, an assistant professor of English at Miranda House had to run from pillar to post to communicate with his partner Prof. Hany Babu and then to get him medical attention after he had developed an acute eye infection.

A statement from her side accused the jail authorities of denying Babu medical treatment and putting him at the risk of complete loss of vision in one eye. On May 12th, activists and students flooded Twitter asking the State to provide Prof. Babu medical care and for his and other political prisoners’ subsequent release.

Later around midnight, he was hospitalized at the JJ Hospital for medical treatment.

Extending the understanding about political prisoners, social activist Harsh Mander said that people living in government detention centers in Assam after NRC should also be considered as political prisoners. He expressed his solidarity to the speakers and their struggle against the State and said that “humari ladai humari udasi ka jawab hai (our fight is the answer to our grief)”

Immediate Bail Must be Given to UAPA and Sedition Under-trials 

The speakers demand an immediate release of all the political prisoners given the gravity of the pandemic. The provision for temporary bail must be employed even in the cases of UAPA or sedition because most of these prisoners are under-trials. The prisons must be decongested and that adequate healthcare facilities must be provided including the creation of vaccination camps in the prisons to inoculate everyone irrespective of their age.

Lotika and Sangeet of International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India (InSAF) extended solidarity to political prisoners and their kin, and comrades. They added that these prisoners should also be compensated for all the torture that they have received.

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