Release Political Prisoners: CJP to Maharashtra CM

In wake of Fr. Stan’s passing, CJP appeals for release of remaining Bhima Koregaon accused.

Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has once again written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, urging him to consider recommending to the high-power committee, that the remaining accused in the Bhima Koregaon case be released on interim bail. There are still 14 people languishing in jail after Fr. Stan Swamy passed away and Varavara Rao was released on medical grounds.

CJP had previously written to the Chief Minister as well as the Home Minister, Dilip Walse Patil on May 17, mentioning the deteriorating health of Father Stan Swamy, Sudha Bharadwaj, Professor Hany Babu, Surendra Gadling and Mahesh Raut, and the need to immediately release them on temporary bail.

Father Stan breathed his last on July 5 in the afternoon, just moments before his medical bail hearing before the Bombay High Court. CJP, in its letter petition has expressed its profound grief over the death of the 84-year-old tribal activist, and mentioned that his condition severely worsened after May 15, when the Court was first apprised of his deteriorating condition and his having contracted the dreaded Covid-19 Virus. “Yet from then until the Court pro-actively intervened the Jail Authorities (and NIA officers) kept obfuscating on the clear state of his health. It is more than likely that if good care had reached him in time, he would not have lost his life this way,” we have said in our letter.

CJP stands in solidarity with the human rights defenders targeted by a vindictive state. A healthy democracy needs voices of dissent. We also need human rights defenders and social activists to work tirelessly to uphold our shared values of equality, peace and justice. Join CJP now!

CJP’s letter shares how the health of lawyer and trade unionist Sudha Bharadwaj, who has been lodged in Byculla Jail since August 28, 2018, is deteriorating with each passing day. She suffers from pulmonary tuberculosis, diabetes, hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis. Her teeth are in such a state she can barely manage to eat, she has lost hair, weight and last year a report showed that she is eczemic. Professor Shoma Sen, who has also been in jail since 2018, has serious health issues given her age. Dr. Anand Teltumbde, whose bail plea was rejected by the NIA court today, on July 12, is asthmatic. Gautam Navlakha, senior writer is also ill with co-morbidities as is Senior Advocate Surendra Gadling.

We have also stated that in early June, 2021, three more accused in the case, Mahesh Raut, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor tested positive in Taloja Central Prison after an RT-PCR test drive was conducted for the inmates. “According to some reports, none of them have been immunised against coronavirus and according to a press conference held on May 15, 2021, CJP learnt that Mr. Mahesh Raut had been suffering from cold, fever, cough, and weakness for more than a week,” we have said in our letter.

The letter to Chief Minister Thackeray, also brings to his attention international condemnation over Father Stan’s death. On July 6, 2021, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, United Nations issued a press release where they expressed how “deeply saddened and disturbed” they were. Their statement reads, “High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and the UN's independent experts have repeatedly raised the cases of Father Stan and 15 other human rights defenders associated with the same events with the Government of India over the past three years and urged their release from pre-trial detention.” In light of the continued, severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the United Nations has appealed to all States, including India, to release every person detained without a sufficient legal basis, including those detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.

CJP’s appeal also refers to the ongoing pending case before the Bombay High Court (Rama Anand Teltumbde and Ors vs State of Maharashtra and Ors Crl. W.P No. 2327 of 2021), where the High Court has issued a notice to the Maharashtra Government, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), and the jail superintendent on a petition filed by Rama Anand Teltumbde (wife of accused Anand Teltumbde) and Susan Abraham Gonsalves (wife of accused Vernon Gonsalves) seeking a direction from the court to the Superintendent of Taloja Prison to allow letter communication between the petitioners and their respective jailed husbands. CJP has stated that the pandemic has disrupted usual communication channels between the jailed undertrials and their families.

In the interest of justice, CJP has finally urged the Chief Minister to intervene in the matter before another undertrial’s health deteriorates. It says, “As Dr. Varavara Rao was released from jail on medical grounds and also that 200 witnesses are required to be examined, it is unfair on these undertrials to languish in jail for such a long period of time. Taloja Prison as of now houses around 3,500 prisoners as opposed to its capacity of 2,124 inmates, with a 133 percent occupancy rate. It is also important to note that some prisoners test negative for Covid, but end up testing positive when tested outside of prisoners.”

The entire memorandum may be read here

The letter petition in Marathi may be read here

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