UPDATE - On July 18, 2020, Mr. Varavara Rao was finally shifted to super speciality Nanavati hospital in Mumbai, following directions of the Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and pressure from civil society.
IND 005 / 0720 / OBS 079
Arbitrary detention /
Critical health condition
July 16, 2020
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.
Brief description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the deteriorating health condition of, and lack of medical care given to, Mr. Varavara Rao, a 79-year old human rights defender who has contracted COVID-19 while in detention at Taloja jail in Mumbai, Maharashtra State.
According to the information received, on July 13, 2020, Mr. Varavara Rao was brought to the state-run JJ Hospital in Mumbai, a day after his family members organised a press conference and urged the government to transfer him to the hospital. Mr. Rao’s family said that he was disorientated, hallucinating and confused while speaking due to an electrolyte imbalance and to a drop in sodium and potassium levels in his system.
On July 15, 2020, when his family was allowed to visit him at the hospital, they found him still incoherent and lying in inhuman conditions in a pool of urine in the transit ward of the hospital, with no treatment being given to him. Moreover, when his family tried to change his bedsheets, they were thrown out by the hospital staff. On July 16, 2020, Mr. Varavara Rao tested positive for COVID-19.
The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the health condition of Mr. Varavara Rao, which has drastically deteriorated during his detention since November 2018 at the overcrowded Taloja jail and as a result of not receiving adequate care or treatment.
The Observatory urges the Indian authorities to immediately allow Mr. Varavara Rao’s access to adequate medical attention. In particular, the Observatory calls upon the authorities to ensure that Mr. Rao is immediately admitted to a private COVID-19-designated specialized hospital with emergency facilities, where he could be properly treated.
Mr. Varavara Rao was arrested on November 17, 2018 for his alleged involvement in violence that broke out at Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra State, on January 1, 2018.
Ten other human rights defenders known for their human rights work on behalf of the most marginalized communities in India have been detained in the same case, some since June 2018, namely Ms. Sudha Bhardwaj, Mr. Vernon Gonsalves, Mr. Gautam Navlakha, Mr. Arun Ferreira, Mr. Sudhir Dhawale, Mr. Rona Wilson, Ms. Shoma Sen, Mr. Anand Teltumbde, Mr. Mahesh Raut, and Mr. Surendra Gadling. Their bail applications have systematically been rejected.
Please write to the authorities in India, urging them to:
i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mr. Varavara Rao, and give him immediate and unconditional access to the medical attention he requires;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Varavara Rao and all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in India, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at sanctioning their human rights activities;
iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Mr. Varavara Rao and all other human rights defenders in India, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances;
iv. Conform to the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2.;
v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by India.
· Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @narendramodi
· Mr. Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Email: email@example.com
· Mr. Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Sharad Arvind Bobde, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court of India, Email: email@example.com
· Mr. H.L. Dattu, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @India_NHRC
· Mr. Debindra Kundra, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: email@example.com
· H.E. Mr. Rajiv Kumar Chander, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of India located in your country.
Geneva-Paris, July 16, 2020
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
 Mr. Varavara Rao is an academic known for his progressive writings on social justice and human rights, and a senior figure in the Indian human rights movement.