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Scottish PEN expresses deep concern for the health and safety of Indian writers and student activists in jail without trial as the pandemic continues.

As India reels under the second wave of a highly transmissable and deadly variant of the coronavirus, Scottish PEN is deeply disturbed by the health condition of writers, journalists and student activists in crowded Indian prisons where COVID 19 has affected many of the prisoners.

May 19, 2021

As India reels under the second wave of a highly transmissable and deadly variant of the coronavirus, Scottish PEN is deeply disturbed by the health condition of writers, journalists and student activists in crowded Indian prisons where COVID 19 has affected many of the prisoners. We know that Natasha Narwal, the co-founder of the student feminist group, Pinjra Tod, was not released on bail in time to see her dying father and could only attend his funeral. G. Saibaba, a heart patient, was not granted bail to see his dying mother. We know that the journalist, Siddique Kappan, a diabetes patient, who was arrested in Uttar Pradesh while travelling to report on a shocking case of gang rape, has been detained under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) since October 2020, and was hospitalised when he developed COVID symptoms, where he was kept handcuffed to his bed without treatment and transferred back to prison, still showing COVID symptoms. The student activists, Umar Khalid and Khalid Saifi, member and founder, respectively, of the group, United Against Hate, protesting against the troubling Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have been detained without trial since February 2020. Both have pleaded for and been denied treatment after developing COVID symptoms.

There are many other writers and journalists in jail, and we list some of them here noting the date since when they have been in prison without trial:

Vernon Gonsalez (since August 2018)

Arun Ferreira (since August 2018)

Anand Teltunbde (since April 2020)

Sudha Bharadwaj (since August 2018)

Gautam Navlakha (April 2020)

Durai Guna, Gunasekharan (September 2020)

Hany Babu, along with Sudha Bharadwaj and Anand Teltumbde, has been arrested and jailed as part of the baseless Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad crackdown on numerous writers and intellectuals. They all remain in prison without trial in overcrowded jails, and their applications for bail based on their deteriorating health conditions have gone unheeded.

A data base prepared by the Network of Women in Media in India records that 134 journalists have died due to Covid. In this climate of a global emergency, Scottish PEN expresses deep dismay at this onslaught on conscientious writers, journalists and student activists in a country which prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy,  where draconian Acts (e.g., UAPA)  and trumped up charges are used to put those who believe in and practise freedom of expression  behind bars, without granting them a fair trial or providing the medical treatment and attention they need during the time of a deadly pandemic. Scottish PEN stands in solidarity with all the imprisoned writers, journalists and student activists in India and calls for the Indian Government to effect their immediate release and provide the medical treatment they urgently need.