GENEVA (21 August 2023) – India’s persistent detention of human rights defender GN Saibaba is an inhumane and senseless act, a UN expert said today.
“GN Saibaba is a long-standing defender of the rights of minorities in India, including the Dalit and Adivasi people,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. “His continued detention is shameful. It bears all the hallmarks of a State seeking to silence a critical voice.”
Saibaba, a former English professor at Delhi University, has suffered from a spinal disorder and polio since the age of five and uses a wheelchair. He was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017 for multiple offences under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). UN human rights experts have repeatedly raised grave concerns about his prosecution, and his detention was declared arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in an opinion issued in 2021.
Apart from two short periods of bail, the human rights defender has been held in Nagpur Central Jail since his initial arrest and detention. His condition in prison is a matter of serious concern, Lawlor said.
“Mr. Saibaba has been detained in a high security ‘anda barracks’ in conditions incompatible with his status as a wheelchair user. His 8×10 feet cell has no window and one wall made of iron bars, exposing him to extreme weather, especially in the scorching summer heat,” Lawlor said.
The Special Rapporteur also stressed her concern for the human rights defender’s health.
“States have an obligation to uphold the right to health of prisoners and detainees and ensure their dignity as human beings. Prison authorities must ensure that prisoners with disabilities are not discriminated against, including by ensuring accessibility and providing reasonable accommodation,” Lawlor said.
“As Mr. Saibaba’s health has severely deteriorated in detention, he should be released.”
The expert is in contact with the Indian Government regarding the case.
Ms Mary Lawlor is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
This statement is endorsed by Mr. Gerard Quinn, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities