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Nobel laureates join international figures, seek release of Bhima Koregaon accused activists

Nobel laureates Olga Tokarczuk, Wole Soyinka
Counterview Desk 
As many as 57 top international personalities, including Nobel laureates, academics, human rights defenders, lawyers cultural personalities, and members of Parliament of European countries, have urged the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India to ensure immediate release of human rights defenders in India “into safe conditions”.
Those who have signed the letter include Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk (Nobel Prize for Literature 2018) and Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka (Nobel Prize for Literature 1986), former president of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention José Antonio Guevara-Bermúdez, and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
In their letter the eminent international figures said, the Indian government and authorities should show compassion and responsibility in the current Covid emergency and release them given the spread of Covid in Indian prisons. Their constitutional right to live and die in dignity needs to be guaranteed under the present circumstances, given that legal recourse takes a long time and all of the arrested are under pre-trial detention, they add.
The appeal follows an initiative of International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India (Insaf India), a collective of diasporic Indian academics and professionals from around the world, the as well as numerous prominent lawyers and members of parliament from Germany, UK, Spain, Ireland and other countries.

Text:

Accounting for almost a third of deaths from Covid-19 worldwide, the situation in India is grave. We are alarmed that a number of human rights defenders who are currently awaiting trial in Indian jails have developed serious health issues in jail owing to over-congestion and neglect, absence of appropriate medical care, and deplorable hygiene conditions.
These political prisoners are now at great risk of contracting the virulent strain of the virus -- which some have already contracted -- and will have no access to prompt medical care that is necessary to save lives. We therefore urgently seek that the temporary administrative order to release prisoners due to the pandemic be applied to political prisoners in India.
We strongly believe that by turning a blind eye to the toll exacted by Covid on those it holds in its custody, the government is in violation of its constitutional duty to safeguard the life of these citizens.
Among the thousands in India arrested for “political offences” is a group known as the Bhima-Koregaon (BK)-16: four academics, three lawyers, two independent journalists, a union organizer and social activist, a poet, three performing artists, and a Jesuit priest. A majority of them are senior citizens, some of whom have comorbidities that render them particularly vulnerable.
All are human rights defenders with a record of writing, speaking and organizing for the rights of workers, minorities, Dalits, and Adivasis through peaceful and constitutional means. As the deadly second wave of Covid rages, with an equally serious third wave anticipated, the overcrowded prisons face severe water shortage and lack the medical equipment and personnel necessary to fight Covid.
At least six of the arrested have contracted Covid-19, others have reported various acute infections and a rapid deterioration of health. Two of the BK-16 were recently shifted to multi-specialty hospitals after intense advocacy from family members and concerned citizens. Last year, one of the 16, an 80-year old poet, received temporary bail on medical grounds after weeks of hospitalization, at a moment when it was feared that he may die in custody.
In a moment of unprecedented national calamity, we ask for decisive action by the government and court to set the BK-16 at liberty to avert further tragedy. When the prison is unable to provide for the health and safety of the prisoners, the family has a right to offer such care as they deem necessary.
None of the prisoners is deemed a flight risk. We acknowledge that while the Bombay High Court allowed three of the 16 arrested to be transferred to private hospitals, there is a humanitarian emergency facing all these political prisoners, whose lives are in grave danger from Covid-19.
With this letter, we call on the Indian authorities to take urgent and prompt action:
  • Release the BK-16 from overcrowded and unsafe prisons immediately.
  • Allow them to be cared for by their kin.
  • Show compassion and responsibility in order to avoid catastrophic consequences.
  • Ensure them their constitutional right to live and die in dignity.

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