Assam: Despite Bail Order, SMSS Leader Manas Konwar Denied Release

Authorities have cited Guwahati Central Jail being a containment zone as the reason for not releasing Konwar, even as others have labelled it a gross violation of the court order.

Guwahati: Manas Konwar, the working president of Sattra Mukti Sangram Samiti (SMSS) – the student wing of the peasant rights’ organisation Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) – has yet to be released from jail despite being granted bail by a National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court on Monday on the ‘pretext’ that Guwahati Central Jail is a containment zone.

KMSS informed the media that Konwar, who was arrested almost seven months ago under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), has gone on a hunger strike.

The jail authorities, according to KMSS aides and his lawyer Krishna Gogoi, have refused to let Konwar go, citing that the Guwahati Central Jail is a containment zone and that the deputy commissioner of Kamrup (metro) had placed orders that Konwar should not be granted permission to leave even though he has tested negative for COVID-19.

Both the lawyer and his aides said that this was a gross violation of the court order and that a petition seeking his immediate release has been submitted to the jail authorities.

“The court had ordered his release and it didn’t even mention that he should be placed under quarantine or something like that. It simply said he has been granted bail in a case (No. 13/19). If jail authorities are so concerned, then he should be taken out of the jail first and put under quarantine in some other place. This is illegal. They are going against court orders and not providing us proper information. They should know that he was under judicial custody and has now been granted bail. We have submitted a petition seeking his immediate release. Since we cannot go inside as it is a containment zone, we placed the petition in the hands of a guard who was posted at the main gate,” said Krishna Gogoi.

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While speaking to The Wire, Konwar’s family said that the refusal to let Manas leave the jail despite the court’s ruling is a “disturbing trend” that could lead to compromising of the democratic rights of the people.

Konwar’s elder brother Madhurjya Konwar reiterated what other relatives of incarcerated KMSS leaders have spoken about previously – that there has been a lack of transparency on the part of the authorities and the state in providing the families proper information. He said that the court ruling was a win, even if it was a small one, and that he hoped that other incarcerated KMSS and SMSS leaders would also be granted bail soon.

“This is a violation of basic human rights and is in violation of Article 21 and 22 of the constitution. The administration cannot do this, and it shows that it is an attempt to sabotage our individual rights. Earlier today, I felt his bail was a victory not just for our family but for the people of Assam and the supporters of KMSS and its students’ wing. And now, a few hours after the good news, there is uncertainty once again. We always knew that there was no incriminating evidence or material proof that could suggest that the leaders were involved in seditious activities,” he said.

“Speaking against Citizenship Amendment Act or expressing dissent does not equal to waging a war against the nation. To protest and to speak out against a particular law or the government is part of a democratic process. Our family always believed and put trust in our judiciary,” he added.

Konwar, along with fellow SMSS leader Bitu Sonowal, KMSS leaders Akhil Gogoi and Dharjya Konwar, were arrested under charges levied by the NIA under the UAPA. They were placed under arrest and accused of ‘seditious’ related activities which included ‘waging war’ against the nation for their alleged ‘incitement’ to violence during the anti-CAA protests that engulfed Assam last winter. They were also accused of being ‘Maoists’.

Also read: The Travails and Scuffles That Marked Akhil Gogoi’s Rise in Politics

Charges that were levied against the leaders included destruction of public property, violence, disrupting train tracks, assaulting police personnel and others.

Dharjya Konwar and Sonowal tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday.

Pranjal Kalita, the assistant general secretary of SMSS who was also questioned by the NIA a few months ago, told The Wire that curbing Konwar’s release despite being granted bail exposed the double standards of the state administration.

“This is a pure political conspiracy. What else could it be? Manas has been tested negative for COVID-19. What is the intention behind it? Do they want him to be COVID-19 positive by detaining him in the jail which is a hotspot for COVID-19? In the NIA chargesheet, it was mentioned that Bitu followed Lenin on Facebook and the rest Akhil’s ideology. When I was questioned by NIA, they asked where we got our money from and who provided for us, whether I had ever gone abroad and whether Akhil would contest the 2021 Assam polls,” said Kalita.

On the same day, KMSS told the media that an inmate at the jail had thrown a letter at them from a vehicle by one Dudul Das, another inmate, while being transferred to a COVID-19 facility.

The letter said, “95% are COVID-19 positive inside the jail. No test is done on all. Despite testing positive, for the last 40 hours there has been no proper treatment or diet given to us. After we set our cell on fire, we will be taken to a facility. Please save us. We are also human beings.”