07, Jul 2018 | CJP Team
United Nations human rights experts have called on India to release imprisoned professor and human rights defender Dr. G. N. Saibaba. Saibaba, who is reportedly being held in solitary confinement, has severe disabilities and uses a wheelchair; his health has been declining, reportedly due to poor conditions in prison, and untrained staff who are not capable of helping prisoners with disabilities.
In a joint statement, the experts said, “We are concerned about reports that Dr. Saibaba is suffering from more than 15 different health problems, some of which have potentially fatal consequences,” adding, “He is now in urgent need of adequate medical treatment”. They also emphasised that “any denial of reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities in detention is not only discriminatory but may well amount to ill-treatment or even torture. In particular, solitary confinement should be prohibited when the conditions of prisoners with disabilities would be made worse by this measure”. They have called on India immediately guarantee that Dr. Saibaba has continuous and unrestricted access to healthcare, including adequate treatment and rehabilitation, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The rights experts who issued the statement are Catalina Devandas, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. They have also urged India to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate work without the fear of threats, or the exposure to intimidating or reprisals, the OHCHR said.
Dr. Saibaba, who has been a longtime defender of the rights of India’s minorities against vested corporate interests, was first arrested in in May 2014, and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2017, for “waging war against the state”. As an activist and rights defender, Dr. Saibaba has campaigned against a push to end reservations for lower castes, as well as against “encounter killings” of innocent people in Andra Pradesh. He launched the Forum Against War on People, in response to the Indian government’s Operation Green Hunt in India’s tribal belt, which allegedly cracked down on Adivasis in the region. He organised a national campaign against the operation that reportedly led to investors pulling out. In July 2015, he told The Hindu that the authorities felt “the best way to stop me was to throw me in jail.” In January 2018, his wife, Vasantha Kumari, told reporters that Dr. Saibaba was suffering from numerous illnesses, and that there was “no attention being paid to his health; doctors don’t visit. The state wants to end his life in jail“.