The Congress party minority cell in Uttar Pradesh has announced a door-to-door campaign demanding the release of Dr. Kafeel Khan. This campaign, which began on 22 July, is scheduled to run for three weeks till 12 August. Dr. Khan had been arrested on 29 January 2020 for allegedly making inflammatory remarks at an anti-CAA protest in Aligarh Muslim University in December 2019. He has been charged under the National Security Act (NSA) and is currently imprisoned at the Mathura jail.
In March, when India went into a lockdown, Dr. Khan wrote to Prime Minister Modi requesting that he be allowed to use his medical expertise and join the effort against the COVID-19 pandemic. He stated: “I have conducted 103 free medical camps since out of jail after the BRD oxygen tragedy examining over 50,000 children/patients all over India…I feel I could be of some help in curtailing this disease”.
On 15 June, he wrote another letter describing the unhygienic living conditions at the Mathura prison. He noted that there were only 4-6 toilets for each barrack, which held 125-150 inmates. He also highlighted the serious risk of COVID-19 spreading in such congested spaces where social distancing was not possible.
Soon after his letter, hundreds of people on Twitter began to demand the release of Dr. Khan. It was reported by the Times of India that more than one lakh posts were put up on Twitter in a span of few hours which called for the immediate release of political prisoners, including Dr. Khan. The medical fraternity had also voiced their concern for Dr. Kafeel Khan and supported the demands for his release.
The campaign for Dr. Khan’s release is to be led by Shahnawaz Alam, the head of the UP Congress minority cell. Mr. Alam himself was imprisoned for around two weeks allegedly for his participation in an anti-CAA protest in Lucknow. In this door-to-door campaign, the participants aim to collect signatures for memorandums and make videos demanding Dr. Khan’s release from prison.
Alam stated that the Congress would mobilize support for Kafeel Khan from the minority community in UP. “We will reach out to clerics, madarsas, educational institutes, self-help groups, members of civil society and ask them to raise their voice in favour of our demand”, he told the media.
Dr. Kafeel Khan had earlier been arrested in 2017 by the UP police when over 60 children died in a government hospital in Gorakhpur due to the lack of oxygen cylinders. He was jailed for nine months by the UP government and accused of medical negligence. Almost two years later, a government inquiry gave Dr. Khan a clean chit and acquitted him in that matter.