Release of Political Prisoners
The issue of political prisoners is increasingly becoming a matter of concern across the country. The governments at the centre, states and UTs instead of addressing the basic demands of various political organisations, people's movements and individuals, has taken the short route of suppressing the dissenting voices and activities by imprisoning those who raise them. Draconian laws like UAPA, AFSPA, similar state laws and provisions of the IPC, especially sections 120B (Criminal Conspiracy), 124A (Sedition), etc., are being invoked indiscriminately to keep people behind the bars indefinitely and allowing the arms of the state to act with impunity. Political organisations / people's movements have been declared 'unlawful' or 'terrorist' in line with America's 'Infinite War' against what they call 'terrorism'. Custodial torture, extracting of 'confessions' by brutal and unlawful methods and illegal unrecorded detention at undisclosed places and using the so-called confessions to prosecute and convict the victims has become the order of the day. All laws/provisions for safeguarding the rights of the arrested persons during and after arrests are flouted as a routine matter. Barring a few cases, the judiciary does not take cognizance of such acts, most of which are offences according to the laws of the land.

Movements for the release of political prisoners and for recognition of their status are as historic as the realities of political movements here and everywhere. Political prisoners deserve special status because they are alleged to have committed offences while pursuing their political ideology (with which one may or may not agree). Societies and regimes had always recognised such offences as distinct from offences committed out of personal agenda, greed and vendetta. This recognition received legal sanction in section 24 of the West Bengal Correctional Services Act 1992 as a result of sustained movements. The present West Bengal state government through an amendment passed by brute majority deprived a large number of political prisoners their due recognition to enable the state to continue to detain dissenters indefinitely and in effect without trial. This is a supplement to the new state government's initial histrionics in the name of setting up a Review Committee for Political Prisoners.

The plight of the non-political under-trial prisoners and those convicted of petty crimes is no better, even worse in some aspects. Overcrowded wards, absence of barest minimum facilities for humane existence coupled with corruption and the criminal nexus between a section of hardened criminal convicts and jail staff which runs the daily affairs have turned the 'correctional homes' into veritable hell-holes. Court orders, Human Rights Commissions' recommendations—nothing can ameliorate the situation.

Rights organisations, Democratic organisations and political parties, as well as concerned individuals have been agitating on the issue.

Only a strong mass movement involving victims' families, their lawyers, other legal activists, rights activists and and concerned individuals can make an insensitive government relent.
Dhiraj Sengupta (APDR), Kolkata

Vol. 46, No. 25, Dec 29 2013 -Jan 4, 2014

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