Former Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, incarcerated since his arrest and conviction under the UAPA, will begin observing a hunger strike in Nagpur Central Jail from 21 October to protest against restrictions on his access to medicines, reading material, and letters from his family, his wife Vasantha Kumari informed The Quint.
Despite 90 percent disability and several ailments, Saibaba, who was convicted by a Gadchiroli court in 2017 for Maoist links and sentenced to life imprisonment, has not been granted medical parole even during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter written by Vasantha to the ADG (Prisons) for Pune, she has alleged that:
- Professor Saibaba has at times not been given the medicines that his advocates have provided to be handed over to him, despite multiple health problems and prescriptions for some of these to be taken by him every day.
- Letters written by family members to him are being stopped and either withheld from him entirely or held by the jail authorities for a long time. Even newspaper clippings and printouts of developments sent to him because of the stoppage of newspapers during the pandemic, are not being provided to him.
- The jail authorities are only allowing him one or two phone calls a month even during the pandemic, whether to talk to his family or his lawyers.
- Books supplied by his family members and advocates – which are not banned and are available freely in the market – are not being provided to him, in violation of jail rules.
In light of these “hardships and harassment”, Professor Saibaba has resolved to go on a hunger strike to protest the “inhuman behaviour and unfair restrictions” laid down by the Nagpur Central Jail authorities. Vasantha has asked the ADG (Prisons) to take action to resolve these issues and give him his basic rights as a prisoner.
The Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr GN Saibaba has also issued an appeal to the Nagpur Central Jail authorities to intervene and ensure his rights are upheld.
They note that denying him access to his medicines, that too while in crowded jail conditions that put him at risk of contracting COVID-19, is a serious threat to his life.
Denying him access to his lawyers is a violation of his right to legal representation and the denial of access to books and letters is also a violation of civil rights, including the right to human dignity. They note that a hunger strike would endanger Saibaba’s life, which is already in danger thanks to his existing illnesses.
In recent months, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court has rejected multiple pleas for interim parole by Saibaba, whether on grounds of his health, the spread of COVID-19 in jail, and to meet his ailing mother, who died of cancer in August.
According to his lawyers, the jail authorities failed to respond to a request for him to be able to speak to his mother by video conferencing before she passed away.
Later that month, the high court denied him emergency parole to meet his family and conduct his mother’s last rites, but directed the authorities to arrange for him to talk to the family via video conferencing.