India: detention and state of health of human rights defender G.N. Saibaba (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and another UN expert to the Government of India on 3 August 2023. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this time frame. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.

Since the sending of the communication, GN Saibaba remains in prison with no change in his detention conditions. A judgement on his case is expected at the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court, however, its exact date has not been communicated to the human rights defender’s lawyers.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

BACKGROUND

Topic: detention and state of health of human rights defender G.N. Saibaba

Dr. G.N. Saibaba is a former Delhi University English professor and human rights defender. He has suffered from a spinal disorder and polio since the age of five and uses a wheelchair. He has been a leading voice defending the rights of Adivasis, Dalits and religious minorities in India, and led the launching of nationwide opposition to the corporate pillage of Adivasi water, forest and land resources by mining and industrial corporations. He was arrested in May 2014 and sentenced in March 2017 to life imprisonment for multiple offences under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

ALLEGATIONS

Dr. Saibaba has been detained for over nine years in Central Jail in Maharashtra. His health has continued to deteriorate in detention, with the human rights defender currently suffering from a brain cyst, a lump in his abdomen, breathing difficulties and a heart condition, cumulatively requiring specialised care only available in New Delhi. He remains detained in an egg-shaped ‘Anda Cell’ incompatible with his status as a wheelchair user and is granted only a few hours in the common barracks of the prison per day.

On 14 October 2022, the Bombay High Court discharged the case against Dr. Saibaba and ordered his release alongside that of the co-accused in the case against him, ruling that the procedural requirements included in the UAPA had not been adhered to during the process against them. On the same day, the Maharashtra Government applied to the Supreme Court for a stay on the releases. The Supreme Court subsequently held a special sitting on the 15 October 2022 and suspended the order of the High Court. The Supreme Court also rejected a request for the transfer of Dr. Saibaba from prison to house arrest on medical grounds.

On 19 April 2023, the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Bombay High Court and ordered a new bench to be constituted at the lower court to consider the merits of the case afresh, with a decision recommended within four months.

CONCERNS

In the communication, we express our serious concern at the continuing detention of Dr. Saibaba. We reiterate the grave concern, expressed in previous communications addressed to the Indian Government on the case, as to the inadequacy of the detention facilities at the Nagpur Central Jail considering Dr. Saibaba’s status as a person with disabilities and his need for specialised medical care, and renew the concern previously expressed for his state of health in detention. We are further concerned about the justification for and necessity of the enhanced security measures put in place, including his detention in a so-called ‘Anda Cell’, in light of Dr. Saibaba’s significantly limited mobility.

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