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New Delhi: Rights activist and journalist Gautam Navlakha’s condition has worsened in jail since he was shifted to a ‘high-security’ barrack on October 12, his partner Sahba Husain has said. Navlakha, 70, is one of the oldest people among the activists, lawyers and scholars arrested in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case.
Ever since he was moved to Taloja jail’s ‘Anda Circle’, Husain has said in a statement, Navlakha’s health has deteriorated and he hasn’t been able to access the open spaces available to other prisoners. In addition, he is now also been denied access to phone calls – both to Husain and to his lawyers – which have been a “lifeline to the outside world” for Navlakha in jail.
The reason for the calls not being allowed, Husain says in the statement, is that in-person mulaqats have started again. However, given that she lives in Delhi and is over 70 years old herself, she cannot travel to the Mumbai prison frequently, especially as the meetings there last only 10 minutes. “…Gautam’s only contact with me is through the two calls he was allowed every week to me that enabled me to send him articles of need, including medicines, books etc. With discontinuance of phone calls, all this will now depend on letters that take a minimum of two weeks to reach me.”
“Apart from the calls to me, regular access to lawyers through phone calls is an essential facility for undertrial prisoners. To deprive any undertrial prisoner of this effective and efficient mode of securing legal advice and help, or access to family, is the height of unfairness,” she continues.
In addition to the lack of effective communication, being shifted to the high-security has meant that Navlakha is not being able to take the daily walks that he used to earlier, which are important for his health. In a letter to Husain, he reportedly wrote:
“…confinement in Anda Circle means denial of fresh air/oxygen as there is not a single tree or plant in the open space of the Circle. And we are forbidden to step outside of the Anda Circle…. In other words, we spend 16 hours out of 24 cooped inside our cell and the 8 hours we are let out we are confined to a corridor 71/2’ x 72’ for our daily walk on cemented floor surrounded by high walls all around.”
Navlakha has been in custody since April 14, 2020. He is one of the 16 activists, lawyers and scholars arrested in the Elgar Parishad case, which many believe is being used to go after those who fight for the rights of the marginalised and speak out against the government. One of the people arrested in custody, Adivasi rights activist and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy, passed away in July this year. Despite his age, co-morbidities and fast-deteriorating health, he had not been granted medical bail.
Husain brought up Swamy’s death in her letter, saying it was unjust to subject these prisoners to such indignities and make them fight for their basic rights.
“These are prisoners of conscience, who have had to face indignities and humiliation for the smallest needs, and wage court battles for basic dignities in prison. In the past, when Navlakha’s original pair of spectacles went missing, it was difficult for the replacement spectacles to reach him in time.
It is not too much to ask for these simple facilities, phone access to his lawyers and family, and some fresh air to walk in once or twice a day.
Gautam has faced his unjustified incarceration with courage and spirit. How much longer is he going to be persecuted for his views, and to what extent will the authorities go to break his spirit?”