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India must provide jailed human rights defenders with urgent access to health care

Justice Mr Dipankar Datta

Chief Justice of the High Court of Bombay

July 28, 2022

Request to provide urgent access to health care and prevention of health risks for human rights defenders in Nagpur and Taloja jails

Respected Justice Datta,

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is deeply concerned about the detention conditions and worsening health conditions of human rights defenders Mr Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba, detained in Nagpur Central Jail, Maharashtra state; and Messrs Gautam Navlakha and Sagar Gorkhe, detained in Taloja Central Jail, Maharashtra state.

The OMCT has been informed of the deteriorating health of Mr Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba, who suffers from a severe physical disability as well as several life-threatening health issues including a heart condition, a brain cyst, hypertension, breathing difficulties and symptoms of an untreated heat stroke due to the intense heat in his cell. Moreover, he contracted Covid-19 twice in jail, in January 2021 and in February 2022. These conditions have worsened during his detention in solitary confinement and carry a significant risk of proving fatal in case of further refusal of treatment. His medical bail requests have been systematically denied, as well as his request to be transferred to a prison in Hyderabad city to be closer to his family and for them to provide him with the medication his health condition requires.

Concerns over the critical condition of Mr Saibaba have been voiced by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, who called for his urgent hospitalisation in January 2022. Since 2018 UN Special Rapporteurs have called for the release of Mr Saibaba and alerted about the ill-treatment or even torture dimension of his detention conditions.

Messrs Gautam Navlakha and Sagar Gorkhe currently face degrading prison conditions that put their health and lives at risk at Taloja Central Jail. Citing security reasons, jail authorities seized the mosquito nets both human rights defenders previously had access to. The OMCT notes that the above-mentioned prison is located in an area with a high risk of malaria and dengue infection.

On July 7, 2022, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Mumbai rejected Messrs Gautam Navlakha and Sagar Gorkhe plea to use mosquito nets in prison. The OMCT notes that this decision is inconsistent with a previous NIA court decision. On July 4, 2022, in a similar case, this court allowed mosquito nets to an undertrial in Taloja jail.

We respectfully remind you that the detention conditions of Messrs Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba, Gautam Navlakha and Sagar Gorkhe contradict the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), particularly Rules 24, 25, 27, 30, 31 and 35 that state adequate and prompt access to health care services for prisoners is a responsibility of the State and prison director. Rule 32 establishes the duty of the State to treat and prevent any diseases, which in a region prone to contagious diseases should include effective measures against mosquito bites. Prolonged solitary confinement is prohibited under Rule 43 and in the case of Mr Saibaba, a case of a prisoner with disabilities, particularly forbidden under Rule 45. The ongoing detention of Mr Saibaba has resulted in an exacerbation of his severe health conditions, which risks being fatal. This is conflicting with Rule 109.

We recall that prominent human rights defender Father Stan Swamy, who was 84 years old and suffered from advanced Parkinson’s disease and was detained in Taloja Central Jail, was systematically denied bail and died in custody on July 5, 2021, after 270 days of arbitrary detention. The OMCT was also informed that prior to the custodial death of Stan Swamy, on May 18, 2021, a petition was submitted with the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) highlighting abysmal dwelling conditions in Taloja and Byculla jails raising severe health concerns. However, the NHRC failed to take timely action. NHRC's notice on August 4, 2021, on Stan Swamy's custodial death, is yet to be fully honoured by the District Magistrate Mumabi Suburban.

We respectfully request you to direct prison authorities in Nagpur and Taloja jails to ensure adequate and humane detention conditions for the detainees in line with international human rights standards. This includes providing Messrs. Navlakha and Gorkhe with mosquito nets to ensure their right to health is adequately respected and protected, and immediately granting Mr Saibaba’s appeal to be shifted to a jail in Hyderabad city on humanitarian grounds.

We also urge you to direct the NHRC to exercise Section 12 (c) of the Protection of Human Rights Act and undertake visits to Nagpur and Taloja jails to assess the detention conditions.

We respectfully also appeal that all human rights defenders, subjected to prolonged pretrial detention in the ‘Bhima Koregoan Case’, lodged in Byculla and Taloja jails, and Mr Saibaba in Nagpur jail, are not subjected to solitary confinement and are granted telephonic and video calls with their family members, as the latter live in states all across India and face significant challenges to visit the detainees.

Yours sincerely,

Gerald Staberock
Secretary General of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


Mr Sunil Ramananad

Addl. DGP & IG Prisons & Correctional Services

Justice (retd.) Mr Arun Kumar Mishra

Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission India

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