India: Akhil Gogoi tested positive for COVID-19 in jail

15/07/2020
Urgent Appeal

New information
IND 002 / 0320 / OBS 019.1
Arbitrary detention /
Critical health condition
India
July 15, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources that Mr. Akhil Gogoi, President of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), a peasant rights’ organisation based in Assam State [1], has contracted COVID-19 while in detentionat Guwahati Central Jail, Assam State.

According to the information received, on July 11, 2020, Mr. Akhil Gogoi tested positive for COVID-19 after theNational Investigation Agency (NIA) Special Court ordered for the test to be conducted. Mr. Gogoi had been ill for more than a week and had shown symptoms of COVID-19, suffering in particular from a cough, fever, and body aches. Mr. Gogoi was subsequently brought to Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), where he is currently being treated.

A total of 55 inmates have reportedly contracted COVID-19 in Guwahati Central Jail, including two other leaders of KMSS, Messrs. Bittu Sonowal and Dhairjya Konwar, who both tested positive on July 8 and were also brought to GMCH for treatment. On July 15, 2020, Mr. Bittu Sonawal was granted bail by the NIA Special Court and will be released from the hospital once his health has improved.

The Observatory recalls that Messrs. Akhil Gogoi, Bittu Sonowal, and Dhairjya Konwar have remained arbitrarily detained under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) since December 2019 (see background information).

The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the health of Mr. Akhil Gogoi while in prison, particularly as his health was already of high concern prior to contracting COVID-19due to long-term severe back pain and kidney related issues.

The Observatory calls on the Indian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Akhil Gogoi, Bittu Sonowal and Dhairjya Konwar, as their detention is arbitrary and only seems to aim at punishing them for their human rights activities.

Background information:

Mr. Akhil Gogoi was arrested on December 12, 2019, immediately after delivering a speech during a peaceful protest against the recently-passed Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) in Jorhat, Assam State [2]. He was subsequently charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy under Sections 120 (B), 124 (A), 153 (A), 153 (B) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 18 and 39 of the UAPA. On December 26, 2019, his house was raided by NIA officials, who seized several documents including books. His remand to judicial custody has been extended several times since his arrest. Mr. Gogoi faces life imprisonment if convicted.

Messrs. Bittu Sonowal and Dhairjya Konwar were also arrested in December 2019 for their alleged role in protests against the CAA and charged under the UAPA.

On February 29, 2020, Mr. Akhil Gogoi was taken from Guwahati Central Jail in Assam, where he had been detained since December 12, 2019, to the GMCH, as a result of the significant deterioration of his health while in detention, in the absence of proper medical care. Mr. Gogoi was kept under observation at the GMCH for one day only, before being sent back to Guwahati Central Jail, despite having complained about stomach pain due to a urinary tract infection. No medical tests were conducted while he was under observation, reportedly due to the absence of clearance from the NIA.

On March 2, 2020, Mr. Gogoi’s legal counsels were not able to meet him as he could not leave his bed due to a high fever and severe stomach pain. On March 3, 2020, his wife was not able to see him due to his poor health. On March 6, 2020, Mr. Gogoi was brought back to the GMCH, where several tests were finally conducted.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in India, urging them to:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Messrs. Akhil Gogoi, Bittu Sonowal, and Dhairjya Konwar, and give them immediate and unconditional access to the medical attention they require;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Akhil Gogoi, Bittu Sonowal, Dhairjya Konwar, and all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in India, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at sanctioning their human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Messrs. Akhil Gogoi,Bittu Sonowal, Dhairjya Konwar,and all other human rights defenders in India, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances;

iv. Conform to the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2.;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by India.

Addresses:

· Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, E-mail: pmosb@pmo.nic.in, Twitter: @narendramodi
· Mr. Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Email: dirfcra-mha@gov.in
· Mr. Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, Email: hshso@nic.in
· Mr. Sharad Arvind Bobde, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court of India, Email: supremecourt@nic.in
· Mr. H.L. Dattu, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: chairnhrc@nic.in, Twitter: @India_NHRC
· Mr. Debindra Kundra, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: hrd-nhrc@nic.in
· H.E. Mr. Rajiv Kumar Chander, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: mission.india@ties.itu.int

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of India located in your country.

***
Geneva-Paris, July 15, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
• Tel and fax FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

[1] Founded by Mr. Akhil Gogoi in 2005, KMSS works notably in favour of land rights and since 2009 has also been leading a statewide movement against the construction of big dams in the ecologically sensitive regions of Assam State and Arunachal Pradesh State.
[2] The CAA grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who had entered India by December 31, 2014 and if they have lived in India for six years. Not only does it violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guaranteeing the right to equality, but it also contradicts the citizenship cut-off date of March 24, 1971 provided for in the Assam Accord. This also implies that individuals with religious affiliations outside of the six named above, including Muslims and atheists, will not be eligible for a citizenship under the conditions of the CAA.

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