We the undersigned would like to express our concern over the manner in which the government is increasingly resorting to the indiscriminate use of custody. In particular, the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 2008 (UAPA) is being abused indiscriminately to harass, intimidate and dissenting voices. This is part of the escalating effort to impede free speech and even thought, contrary to the Constitution of India as well as International principles of Human Rights. Such actions become pernicious in the context of the wide-ranging powers and impunity that have been available to the police and paramilitary forces under this Act. This is illustrated by the fact that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has reportedly issued instructions that persons and organizations who raise issues of human rights violations in Maoist areas must be targeted and arrested.
The recent abduction of Dr. G. N. Saibaba was particularly shocking. Dr. G N Saibaba, Asst. Professor with the Department of English, Ram Lal Anand College, Delhi University, was arrested by the Maharashtra Police on 9 May 2014 for his alleged links with Naxal leaders. He has been an active member of the Delhi University community, a very popular and respected teacher, and an important voice on democratic norms within and outside the university. He has been a vocal and important critic of the Indian state’s policies with regard to its paramilitary action in Central and Eastern tribal areas, commonly known as Operation Green Hunt. Along with other intellectuals, he has drawn attention to the blatant human rights violations of the Adivasi peoples of these regions. In particular, he has pointed out the enormous financial stakes in claiming the region for private industrial and commercial development at several national and international forums. Along with other intellectuals, he has criticized such models of “development” and their usefulness for the local populace in any participatory democracy. His sustained critique has earned him the ire of the powers that be. For some time now, they have been looking for a way to silence this very significant voice.
Dr. Saibaba is wheelchair bound, suffers from 90% disability and post-polio residual paralysis of both lower limbs. He poses no flight risk whatsoever. He is also a heart patient with blood pressure issues. Furthermore, he suffers from chronic and intense back pain as a result of the disability and being wheelchair bound. He has always cooperated fully with the investigation and did not need to be arrested. The National Human Rights Commission has already issued notice to the Maharashtra and Delhi police forces for violation of Dr. Saibaba’s rights in the course of the earlier investigation.
Saibaba is being kept in a highly unsanitary, solitary cell, in darkness and with inadequate facilities. The denial of medication has resulted in constant pain and deterioration of health. Moreover, he is experiencing great difficulty, pain and indignity while using the toilet since it is impossible for him to use the Indian style commode that is provided in his cell. Given his fragile medical condition, we are particularly concerned for Dr. Saibaba’s well-being, and are apprehensive that, given his fragile medical condition, he may collapse physically in police custody.
We also understand from news reports that the Chattisgarh Police has expressed a wish to interrogate him. We suspect that several such requests will come from the police of various states and remote corners that he has not even visited and where legal aid is very difficult to find, only to intensify the torture on him. The present Master Case will be vastly multiplied to tie up the life and resources of the family in litigation. Consequently, the family will become increasingly financially vulnerable.
Your Honour, we are deeply concerned about the methods being adopted now by the police to silence voices of dissent. There are thousands of political prisoners languishing. There is a dire need for a more compassionate criminal justice system that will encourage the participation of the people in proving their innocence. There is also an urgent need to level the playing field, which is at the moment hopelessly prejudiced against the individual. Such an intervention can come only from a Superior Court. We look to you for justice and for the judicial protection of all such critical voices. We further appeal to you to intervene in the increasing criminalisation of voices of dissent and critique.
On the matter of Saibaba in particular, given that he clearly poses no flight risk whatsoever, we ask you to initiate a judicial investigation of the matter and to issue an interim order immediately releasing him from judicial custody and back to his family.
Les Levidow, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC), UK
Estella Schmid, CAMPACC, UK
Saleh Mamon, CAMPACC, UK
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
Michael Goold, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers, Joint Secretary of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, UK
Melanie Gingell, barrister, Doughty Street Chambers, UK
Margaret Owen OBE, human rights lawyer, UK
Matt Foot Solicitor Birnberg Peirce and Partners, UK
Russell Fraser, barrister, secretary of Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, UK
Frances Webber, human rights lawyer, UK
Desmond Fernandes, author and genocide scholar, UK
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
Richard Haley, Chair, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), UK