MOUNTING INTERNATIONAL CONCERN OVER DETENTION OF CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS IN INDIA IN THE MIDST OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Over 5,000 Individuals and 15 Organizations Sign Global Statement of Support for Dr. Anand Teltumbde and Mr. Gautam Navlakha
More than 5,000 individuals and, and over fifteen organizations have endorsed a global solidarity statement urging the Indian state to delay the impending arrest of Dr. Anand Teltumbde and Mr. Gautam Navlakha given the dangers posed by the pandemic COVID-19. Among the signatories of the statement, organized by India Civil Watch-International, a transnational democratic and civil rights advocacy group, are well-known and well-respected international scholars such as Professors Angela Davis, Cornel West, Jean Dreze, Sukhadeo Thorat, Zoya Hasan, Rajmohan Gandhi and Noam Chomsky; writers and artists such as Arundhati Roy, Aparna Sen and T.M. Krishna. Various democratic rights and social rights organizations such as European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights (ELDH), International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), Paris, Ambedkar International Center, USA, All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), India and many more have signed the petition.
Based on the denial of anticipatory bail by the Supreme Court of India, Dr. Teltumbde and Mr. Navlakha are expecting to be arrested by April 6, 2020. Both are internationally recognized for their life-long advocacy for the rights of the most marginalized communities of India. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, former Vice-Chancellor of Ashoka University endorses Anand Teltumbde as one of India’s foremost intellectuals, whose life work embodies the spirit of justice enshrined in the Indian constitution”. The global petition underscores the risks to their life and health in the midst of COVID19: “Both are senior citizens with pre-existing medical conditions that puts them at high risk for a deadly infection if imprisoned. Incarceration at such a time will most definitely endanger their lives and health. At the very least, we urge the judicial authorities to delay their arrest order, to after the global health crisis is fully subsided and there is no danger to their health and life.” As noted by prison reform advocates and health experts worldwide, “prisons and jails are amplifiers of infectious diseases,” especially for individuals with underlying health conditions.1 In India, with latest projections estimating that the pandemic could affect at least tens or even hundreds of millions of people, prisons are already in the process of releasing thousands of prisoners to forestall the spread of the virus in the population as a whole.2 Award winning poet and writer, Meena Kandasamy also asked for restraint from the Indian state at this time: “Countries around the world, have reacted to the alarming spread of COVID-19 by resorting to early release, and temporary release and presidential pardon of thousands of prisoners. Governments recognize that this is the only way to stem the spiraling fatality rates of this killer disease. To undertake a high profile arrest of a political nature at this time is absolutely inhuman and terrifying. It is, in effect, a death sentence. Dr. Teltumbde is in his 70s, and belongs to the vulnerable age group. The Indian state must restrain itself from the blunder of arresting him.”
Dr. Prachi Teltumbde, one of the co-organizers of the global solidarity statement said, “As a medical doctor I can say this with certitude: no humanitarian institution would send people into a crowded jail that has all the conditions for the spread of COVID19 and deadly risk. Anand Teltumbde is my father. I would not wish this on anyone, least of all my dad.”
India Civil Watch International would like to bring attention to the fact the threatened arrest of Dr. Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha marks another escalation in ongoing efforts to target dissent, specifically around what has come to be known as the Bhima Koregaon case, wherein more than a dozen dissidents – including internationally acclaimed lawyers and human rights activists – have been either imprisoned or threatened with imprisonment.3
Supporting the global solidarity petition, noted scholar and former University Grants Commission chairman Sukhadeo Thorat said: “Let Anand Teltumbde and Mr. Gautam Navlakha’s freedom to hold and express views, guaranteed by the Indian Constitution to all Citizens be protected.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
1 See Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic [https://www.prisonpolicy.org/virus/virusresponse.html].
2 See 1.3 billion people. A 21-day lockdown. Can India curb the coronavirus? [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/13-billion-people-21-day-lockdown-can-india-curb-coronavirus]. Indian prisons are notoriously under-equipped to ensure the health of the incarcerated even under normal circumstances. “Indian prisons have 17% more prisoners than their full capacity. When social distancing is key to breaking chain of infections, this kind of overflowing occupancy is a matter of grave concern. Sanitation facilities in prisons are horrible.” Dr KK Aggarwal, cardiologist and president of the Heart Care Foundation of India, quoted in Coronavirus: India’s packed prisons raise Covid-19 alarm [https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/india-packed-prisons-raise-coronavirus-alarm-1661136-2020-03-30]. See also Coronavirus: Congested prisons across India to release prisoners on parole [https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/coronavirus-congested-prisons-across-india-to-release-prisoners-on-parole/cid/1760575].
3 See Bhima Koregaon [https://indiacivilwatch.org/issues-b12/]