Unjustified Incarceration

A Letter to CJI

The Chief Justice of India,
Supreme Court,
Tilak Marg,New Delhi-110 001, India

Subject: Unjustified incarceration of Delhi University Prof G N Saibaba in Nagpur Central jail, India.

Your Honour,
More than a year passed since we wrote to you appealing to release the Delhi University Professor Dr Saibaba, who was clandestinely abducted on 9th May 2014 by the Indian police. Since then, this 90% disabled wheelchair bound intellectual is being incarcerated, confined in a highly unsanitary and solitary dark cell in Nagpur Central Jail in the state of Maharashtra, hundreds of miles away from Delhi, where his family lives. Charged with the draconian black law, the 'Unlawful Activities Prevention Act' (UAPA), he has been denied bail thrice by the Indian judiciary. We understand that his trial has not started even after a year!

We the undersigned would like to express our general concern over the Indian government's increasing use of unjust laws to silent its political opponents. Particularly, the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is being used indiscriminately to silence dissenting voices. This blatantly violates the Constitution of India as well as principles of Human Rights. Wide-ranging powers and legal impunity have been given to the police and paramilitary forces under this Act. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has reportedly issued instructions that those who raise issues of human rights violations must be targeted and arrested, particularly in central and eastern India, where the Communist Party of India (Maoist) is active in the people's struggles against displacement from mining and mega dams.

We would like to remind you that India is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it ratified on April 10th, 1979. Its Article 9 protects every individual from arbitrary arrests and detention, their right to be informed of charges against them and fair and speedy trial. Article 7 says "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment"; articles 18 and 19 protect the freedom of thought, conscience and expression of ideas; article 26 protects everyone against discrimination.

Dr Saibaba is a well-known human rights activist in the Indian subcontinent and beyond. He has been a vocal, important critic of the Indian state's 'development' model and its great damage to the people who supposedly benefit. He has successfully exposed to the outside world the role of the multi-national corporations in grabbing the land, forests and rivers that belong to the indigenous population. He is one of several intellectuals who have drawn attention to the blatant human rights violations against the indigenous peoples of central and eastern Indian states, where the Indian paramilitary forces have been engaged in an unjustified war with India's own people, in famously known as 'Operation Green Hunt'. His persistent criticism has made him a high-profile target of the Indian State.

Dr Saibaba is strangely treated as a security threat by the Indian State, even though he is a wheelchair-bound disabled person who suffers from 90% disability and post-polio residual paralysis of both lower limbs. He suffers from heart ailment and degeneration of his spine for which he needs constant medical attention. On 26th June 2015 The Indian Express reported Saibaba's wife Vasanta, who was only allowed five times to visit her husband during the past one year, fears that she was not sure if her husband will come out of prison alive. His health has further deteriorated over the past one year of his imprisonment. A news report by 'Nagpur Today' reported that according to the health report submitted by Chief Medical Officer and the superintendent of the jail to a Gadchiroli court last month, wheel-chair bound Saibaba "is now a known case of systemic hypertension with ischemic heart disease" and also has kidney and gall-bladder stones.

Despite knowing about his fragile and critical physical condition, the Indian courts have rejected his bail three times. Why? We wonder whether the Indian judiciary is afraid that this wheelchair-bound person, if released on bail, might jump bail or will be in a better position to influence the trial, which has not even started.

Given that Indian prisons are crowded with 300,000 defendants awaiting trial, there is a need for a fair criminal justice system that either prosecutes or releases detainees. Such an intervention can come only from a Superior Court. We appeal to you for the judicial protection of all such critical voices, by stopping the criminalisation of dissent.

Given that Dr Saibaba clearly poses no flight risk whatsoever, we appeal to you to release him immediately from the judicial custody so that his family can provide him necessary medical treatment which he desperately needs.

Update 30/06/15: Taking into suo moto cognizance of a news report on Dr Saibaba's deteriorating health condition and a letter written by Human Rights activist Purnima Upadhayay, Bombay High Court granted him temporary and conditional bail for three months on 30/06/15,allowing his family to provide medical treatment. One of the bail conditions is that he should refrain from using laptops and computers when on bail, which means he cannot communicate with the outside world about what has happened to him during his imprisonment.

We request your Honour to restore the fundamental rights granted to Dr Saibaba by the Constitution of India and convert this temporary bail into permanent bail and lift all undemocratic conditions attached to the bail.

Campaign Against Criminalising Connmunities (CAMPACC) UK, Countercurrents UK, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign UK, Russell Fraser, barrister, Chair of Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, UK, Mlichael Goold, Barrister, Vice-Chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, UK, Liz Davies, barrister arid Vice-President Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Prof Bill Bowring, Professor of Law, Birkbeck University School of Law, and President of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH), UK, Thomas Schmidt, Lawyer, ELDH Secretary General, Radha D'Souza, global justice scholar and democratic rights campaigner, Frances Webber, human rights lawyer, UK, Margaret Owen OBE, human rights lawyer, UK, Matt Foot Solicitor Birnberg Peirce and Partners, UK, Alastair Lyon, Solicitor Birnbcrg Peirce and Partners, UK, Desmond Fernandes, author and genocide scholar, David Morgan, historian and journalist, UK, Jonathan Bloch, author, UK, Dr. Andy Higginbottom, Associate Professor, PG Programme Co-ordinator, International Politics and Human Rights, UK, Sara Kellas, Solicitor, UK, Nick Hildyard, policy analyst, UK,  Dr Vicky Sentas, lecturer in Criminal Law and Criminology at the Faculty of Law, UNSW, Sydney, Professor Felix Padel, Consultant Adviser to The Gujarat Ecological Society, Vadodara,Gujarat, Robert Atkins, Solicitor, UK

Vol. 48, No. 3, July 26 - Aug 1, 2015