Listen to this article:
New Delhi: A number of civil society and academic organisations from across the globe in a joint letter have urged Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana to immediately grant medical bail to professor G.N. Saibaba, who has been convicted and jailed in a Maoist-link case.
The signatories of the letter, while expressing “grave concern” over Saibaba’s health, have highlighted that the former Delhi University professor is 90% disabled and has tested positive for COVID-19 twice. He is currently held in solitary confinement in an ‘anda cell’ in Nagpur, where he is steadily losing the functioning of his vital organs, they said.
“His life sentence has effectively turned into a death sentence,” the signatories said.
To drive home their point, they cited the example of Father Stan Swamy, who died at 84 during his imprisonment in Taloja Prison in July 2021. He was accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case but died from COVID-19 as he awaited medical bail.
“We have great faith that you will respond promptly so that Prof. G.N. Saibaba will not face the same fate as Stan Swamy… who died in judicial custody,” they said.
While noting that his imprisonment is an “example of the silencing of political dissent in India”, the signatories alleged that his right to a fair trial was “obstructed by a biased political system”.
“Even though he is on the edge of death, his parole request was rejected three times and his medical bail application was denied two times. We appeal to you to intervene and deliver justice to Prof. G.N. Saibaba. Immediately, in order to save his life, shift him from Anda Cell to a wheelchair-accessible barrack, then release him on medical bail and admit him to a multispecialty hospital for treatment,” the signatories urged CJI.
Among the signatories are international groups such as Scholars At Risk (USA), PEN America (USA), Freedom Now (USA), the Free Saibaba Coalition-US, Stitching the London Story (the Netherlands), India Solidarity Germany (Germany), India Justice Project (Germany), Southern Illinois Democratic Socialists of America (USA), Indian Scheduled Caste Welfare Association (UK), Indian American Muslim Council (USA), Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance (UK), Ambedkar King Study Circle (California, USA), Boston South Asian Coalition (USA), India Civil Watch International (USA), Hindus for Human Rights (USA).
The international appeal is an initiative of International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India (InSAF India), a collective of diasporic Indian academics and professionals from around the world.
Saibaba was sentenced to life imprisonment by a lower court in Gadchiroli in 2017 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for alleged Maoist links. His appeal against the sentence at the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court has been pending.
The full letter to the CJI and the list of signatories are reproduced below.
Justice N.V. Ramana
Chief Justice of India
Supreme Court of India
3, Janpath, New Delhi-110 001
Dear Justice N.V. Ramana,
We, the undersigned international civil society and academic organizations, are deeply concerned by the deteriorating health condition of Delhi University English professor G.N. Saibaba. Since March 7, 2017, he has been imprisoned in the maximum security Anda Cell in the Nagpur Central Prison in the State of Maharashtra for challenging systemic oppression and discrimination. The Anda cells (named such as they resemble an egg) confine prisoners to windowless concrete cells for sixteen hours a day allowing them to step out in an open space which is also concrete, with no greenery, burning with the intense heat, especially during the summer months. It is with grave concern for his chances of survival in these prison conditions, we humbly request you to intervene and take appropriate measures to save the life of Prof. G.N. Saibaba.
We know Prof. G.N. Saibaba not only as a member of the academic community, but also as a social justice activist who has fought for the democratic rights of the oppressed, adivasis (indigenous people of India), Dalits (so-called untouchables), women, religious minorities, and oppressed nationalities. We also know that he is 90 percent disabled and has been suffering from 19 chronic and acute postpolio medical conditions, some of which are fatal and need immediate medical intervention.
We would like to remind you of the fact that Prof. G.N. Saibaba was arrested and imprisoned for his ideas. The plot against him started with a search warrant issued by a judicial magistrate on September 7, 2013 to seize alleged stolen property from G.N. Saibaba’s residence. In the search operation on September 17th, the officials claimed to have found digital evidence (articles, documents) that could establish links between Saibaba’s activism and the Communist Party of India (Maoist). It was very well reported in the media that not only the police raid but also the way the search was conducted directly violated the Indian Evidence Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure (Section 100). Following the raid, on May 9, 2014, police in plain clothes abducted Prof. Saibaba from a vehicle near his home and flew him to the Nagpur Central Prison in Maharashtra. The charges brought against him were related to “waging war against the state.”
A bail application was filed on May 15, 2014 in the Sessions Court, but it was denied on August 24th. On February 12, 2015, a second bail application, under Section 439, was filed because of his steadily deteriorating health. Once again, the bail application was rejected. Knowing Prof. Saibaba’s deteriorating health, a social activist from the Vidharba region wrote a letter to the Chief Justice, High Court of Maharashtra, suo moto converted to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by the High Court. This effort resulted in a temporary medical bail for six months. While this process was happening Prof. Saibaba fell extremely ill and was shifted to a public medical facility in Nagpur. The Chief Medical Officer of Nagpur Central Prison repeatedly declared that Prof. Saibaba is suffering from many health complications such as high blood pressure, bilateral kidney stones, a gallbladder stone, and kyphoscoliosis inducing rib crowding.
After a hasty trial, on March 7, 2017, Prof. G.N. Saibaba was sentenced to life in prison under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (Section 13, 18, 20, 38, 39) and Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code. In addition to digital evidence gathered from Prof. G.N. Saibaba’s house during the raid, the prosecution presented twenty-three witnesses. Twenty-two of the presented witnesses were policemen while the remaining witness was a Delhi citizen who knew nothing about the case, but was made to sign the documented witness testimony by the police. When the verdict was announced, Prof. G.N. Saibaba was in an intensive care unit receiving treatment, but without any consideration of his health condition, he was shifted to solitary confinement in an Anda Cell. Since then Prof. G.N. Saibaba has been losing his remaining bodily abilities because of neglect and lack of proper care and so his “life sentence” is turning into a “death sentence.” In the past year, he has twice tested positive for COVID-19. As his vital organs are failing, he is slowly dying.
Prof. G.N. Saibaba has been suffering from excruciating pain in both hands, back and hip, because of which he cannot sit for more than a few minutes. The extreme heat and cold conditions of the Anda Cell cause breathing difficulties for him. He also has regular episodes of dizziness. Doctors have recommended a thorough cardiovascular examination and treatment, which has not happened yet. In addition, he needs regular physiotherapy to revive his arm muscles, but even such a minor pain management procedure is not available in the jail and the authorities are not bringing him to a general physician on a regular basis.
In a recent installment of harassment, the jail authorities refused to provide a plastic water bottle to Prof. G.N. Saibaba who could not hold a metallic or glass bottle because he is losing the functional capacity of both arms. Learning this from Prof. G.N. Saibaba, his lawyer reported this to the media as dehydration caused him to faint several times. In retaliation to the media reports, the jail authorities placed a CCTV camera in his cell so that it records everything all day in the cell including the toilet area. When the jail authorities refused to remove the camera, he went on an indefinite hunger strike. After a four-day hunger strike, he lost consciousness and was admitted to a hospital. Finally, the jail authorities removed the camera and we are awaiting news of whether he received the water bottle. This is the arbitrary and brutal nature of his treatment in prison.
We strongly believe that Prof. G.N.Saibaba’s right to a fair trial was obstructed by a biased political system. His incarceration is an example of the silencing of political dissent in India. Even though he is on the edge of death, his parole request was rejected three times and his medical bail application was denied two times. We appeal to you to intervene and deliver justice to Prof. G.N. Saibaba. Immediately, in order to save his life, shift him from an Anda Cell to a wheelchair-accessible barrack, then release him on medical bail and admit him to a multispecialty hospital for treatment.
We have great faith that you will respond promptly so that Prof. G.N. Saibaba will not face the same fate as Stan Swamy, accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, who died in judicial custody.
Institutional Signatories (last updated 21 June 2022):
International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India (InSAF India), worldwide
Free Saibaba Coalition – US, USA
Scholars at Risk, USA
PEN America, USA
Freedom Now, USA
Stitching the London Story, the Netherlands
Rangmatipadar Adivasi Commune, India
Samvidhan Bachao Desh Bachao Abhiyan Uttar Pradesh, India
Bhagat Singh Academy Ambikapur, India
Turbine Bagh, UK
Indian American Muslim Council, USA
International Council of Indian Muslims (ICIM), USA and UK
India Solidarity Germany, Germany
Association For Democratic Rights Punjab, India
Indian Workers Association GB, UK
Indian Scheduled Caste Welfare Association UK, UK
Dr Ambedkar Community Centre Derby, UK
Derby Against Caste Discrimination, UK
India Justice Project, Germany
NCHRO-GOA, Goa, India
National Confederation of Human Rights (NCHRO), New Delhi, India
Indian Social Institute, India
Democratic Teachers’ Front, University of Delhi, India
Scottish Indians For Justice, Scotland, UK
Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA), UK
Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, India
Boston South Asian Coalition, USA
Coalition Against Fascism in India, USA
India Civil Watch International, North America
Hindus for Human Rights, North America
Southern Illinois Democratic Socialists of America, USA
Ambedkar King Study Circle (California), USA
Radical Desi, Canada
Baba Bujha Singh Publications, Punjab, India
National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, India