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Covid-19: Why has J&K sent its prisoners to jails in “worse-off states”?

Over a dozen Kashmiri political prisoners, reportedly moved from various jails of union territory (UT), sent to jails in Punjab and Haryana

Sabrangindia 15 May 2021

Kashmiri jail

Recently, the Supreme Court of India had ordered the re-release of prisoners from jail amid Covid-19 surge. The order was passed by the SC for all prisoners across the country who were released in 2020 due to the pandemic, and were subsequently asked to surrender in view of better conditions. Now, they are again eligible for immediate release in view of the deadly second wave. The Bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana has issued a slew of directions to decongest prisons in the matter In Re: Contagion of Covid-19 Virus in Prisons.

Meanwhile, according to news reports, there are 4,572 inmates lodged in 13 jails in Jammu and Kashmir, and according to officials quoted in media reports, 23 have tested positive for Covid-19. According to the outgoing DG (prisons) VK Singh, out of those who tested positive, “21 are in Kathua district jail, one in Central Jail, Kotbhalwal and one in District Jail Jammu. Necessary medical care is being provided to them.” Media reports quoted him adding, “635 inmates are lodged in Central Jail, Srinagar, which includes 27 female inmates. There are no Covid positive cases in the prison. At present, 219 inmates are under quarantine in prisons across J&K as new prisoners undergo mandatory Covid testing and quarantine for 14 days.”

After the SC directions on decongesting prisons in 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir prison authorities had released 20 inmates on special parole, reported The Hindustan Times. According to Singh, “The parole continues. It was extended for eight weeks and we are into seventh and eighth week.” DIG Prisons Sultan Lone told the media that there were “22 asymptomatic and one symptomatic Covid inmates.” 

What has raised major concerns, is news that J&K has sent its prisoners to jails “in worse-off states”. According to an investigative report by Article-14, “Hundreds of Kashmiri prisoners—including women and children—are held in out-of-state jails.” The report states that even now, in the middle of the worst Covid outbreak yet, more prisoners are being moved. Families of prisoners across the country, especially those of political prisoners and undertrials, now fear that their loved one is vulnerable to Covid-19 in jail. Article-14 illustrates the case of Nuzhat Shah who fears for health her husband Shahid-ul-Islam, 55, a diabetic osteoarthritis patient who tested positive for Covid-19 on April 26. Since 2017, Islam, media advisor to the Hurriyat Conference, is incarcerated in Tihar jail, Delhi. According to the news report, the family is even more worried since they learnt of the death of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chairman Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai, 77. He had tested negative for Covid-19, but  died in custody on Wednesday in a government hospital in Jammu, and had reportedly shown symptoms of the disease.

According to the news report, the “movement of Kashmiri prisoners continues during the pandemic, often to states with greater infection and death rates” it is not known if the prisoners have been vaccinated. Article 14 quotes Sehrai’s son Mujahid Sehrai saying that his father had complained of “worsening health to jail officials, but there was no medical care evident.”  

The report recalled other “prominent separatist leaders” lodged in prisons outside J&K such as Muslim League Chairperson Masarat Alam, Asiya Andrabi of the Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of Faith), her husband Ashiq Hussain Faktoo, Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabir Shah, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik, Nayeem Khan of the National Front, Hurriyat leaders Altaf Shah, Peer Saifullah, Ayaz Akbar, Mehraj Kalwal, Amir (or chief) of the Jama’at-e-Islami (JeI) Abdul Hameed Ganaie. Apart from these better known names, the report added that there are hundreds of Kashmiris lodged in jails in other states.

Doctors at the Government Medical College Jammu, where Sehrai was brought from jail on May 5, were quoted in the report confirming that he had developed bilateral pneumonia, “over 10 days, which meant it started in prison.” According to this report, even V K Singh, director general of J&K Prisons said his office had “recommended to the home department that Sehrai be moved from Udhampur jail to Jammu Central jail, where he could get better medical attention”, however there was “no forward movement” on the communication.

According to the investigation, prison department officials said that since April end, the J&K government has “moved more than a dozen Kashmiri political prisoners from various jails of the union territory (UT) and sent them to jails in Punjab and Haryana.”

However, the jails that the prisons are sent to are most vulnerable as the Covid-19 is even more contagious. According to the report Tihar Jail, had in March 2020 released 400 prisoners as it had been “stuffed to almost double its capacity, the highest ever in its history”. Tihar’s women’s jail, also reportedly has more Covid-19 cases than any other Delhi prison, stated reports. According to a report in The Hindu, two Tihar prisoners had died of Covid-19 on April 29, “the prison has since reported around 284 Covid-19 cases of among prisoners, as well as 115 among jailers” stated the report adding that “Punjab and Haryana are engulfed by a second wave of Covid-19 that is worse than J&K’s”. Yet, according to this report, “Recently, 22 prisoners detained under the PSA were moved to district jails in Karnal and Jhajjar in Haryana in April,” the J&K Prisons chief Singh was quoted as saying that this was done on orders of the home department. The Article-14 report quotes Elena Leclerc, the Health-in-Detention programme coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), saying that an outbreak of Covid-19 disease in jail can be “devastating” for prisoners… especially an overcrowded prison where general health is already low.” According to Leclerc an infectious disease is more contagious inside a prison than outside as “the rate of transmission inside places of detention will be higher than outside a detention setting because of the conditions of detention, which often have inadequate ventilation, are overcrowded, and have weaker health systems.”

A few days ago, CPI(M) leader Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami had also asked that Kashmiri political prisoners “lodged in various jails within and outside Kashmir must be released as unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases across the country had put their lives in congested jails at risk.” Tarigami issued a statement reminding the authorities of the Supreme Court’s recent directions to the high-powered committees to “consider release of fresh prisoners by adopting the guidelines of the National Legal Services Authority on the issue to decongest jails.

 

Related:

SC orders re-release of prisoners from jail amid Covid-19 surge

J & K: Prior approval for oxygen supply, gag order on doctors speaking to media

J&K admin terminates gov't employees in interest of “security of the state”

Covid-19: Why has J&K sent its prisoners to jails in “worse-off states”?

Over a dozen Kashmiri political prisoners, reportedly moved from various jails of union territory (UT), sent to jails in Punjab and Haryana

Kashmiri jail

Recently, the Supreme Court of India had ordered the re-release of prisoners from jail amid Covid-19 surge. The order was passed by the SC for all prisoners across the country who were released in 2020 due to the pandemic, and were subsequently asked to surrender in view of better conditions. Now, they are again eligible for immediate release in view of the deadly second wave. The Bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana has issued a slew of directions to decongest prisons in the matter In Re: Contagion of Covid-19 Virus in Prisons.

Meanwhile, according to news reports, there are 4,572 inmates lodged in 13 jails in Jammu and Kashmir, and according to officials quoted in media reports, 23 have tested positive for Covid-19. According to the outgoing DG (prisons) VK Singh, out of those who tested positive, “21 are in Kathua district jail, one in Central Jail, Kotbhalwal and one in District Jail Jammu. Necessary medical care is being provided to them.” Media reports quoted him adding, “635 inmates are lodged in Central Jail, Srinagar, which includes 27 female inmates. There are no Covid positive cases in the prison. At present, 219 inmates are under quarantine in prisons across J&K as new prisoners undergo mandatory Covid testing and quarantine for 14 days.”

After the SC directions on decongesting prisons in 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir prison authorities had released 20 inmates on special parole, reported The Hindustan Times. According to Singh, “The parole continues. It was extended for eight weeks and we are into seventh and eighth week.” DIG Prisons Sultan Lone told the media that there were “22 asymptomatic and one symptomatic Covid inmates.” 

What has raised major concerns, is news that J&K has sent its prisoners to jails “in worse-off states”. According to an investigative report by Article-14, “Hundreds of Kashmiri prisoners—including women and children—are held in out-of-state jails.” The report states that even now, in the middle of the worst Covid outbreak yet, more prisoners are being moved. Families of prisoners across the country, especially those of political prisoners and undertrials, now fear that their loved one is vulnerable to Covid-19 in jail. Article-14 illustrates the case of Nuzhat Shah who fears for health her husband Shahid-ul-Islam, 55, a diabetic osteoarthritis patient who tested positive for Covid-19 on April 26. Since 2017, Islam, media advisor to the Hurriyat Conference, is incarcerated in Tihar jail, Delhi. According to the news report, the family is even more worried since they learnt of the death of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chairman Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai, 77. He had tested negative for Covid-19, but  died in custody on Wednesday in a government hospital in Jammu, and had reportedly shown symptoms of the disease.

According to the news report, the “movement of Kashmiri prisoners continues during the pandemic, often to states with greater infection and death rates” it is not known if the prisoners have been vaccinated. Article 14 quotes Sehrai’s son Mujahid Sehrai saying that his father had complained of “worsening health to jail officials, but there was no medical care evident.”  

The report recalled other “prominent separatist leaders” lodged in prisons outside J&K such as Muslim League Chairperson Masarat Alam, Asiya Andrabi of the Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of Faith), her husband Ashiq Hussain Faktoo, Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabir Shah, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik, Nayeem Khan of the National Front, Hurriyat leaders Altaf Shah, Peer Saifullah, Ayaz Akbar, Mehraj Kalwal, Amir (or chief) of the Jama’at-e-Islami (JeI) Abdul Hameed Ganaie. Apart from these better known names, the report added that there are hundreds of Kashmiris lodged in jails in other states.

Doctors at the Government Medical College Jammu, where Sehrai was brought from jail on May 5, were quoted in the report confirming that he had developed bilateral pneumonia, “over 10 days, which meant it started in prison.” According to this report, even V K Singh, director general of J&K Prisons said his office had “recommended to the home department that Sehrai be moved from Udhampur jail to Jammu Central jail, where he could get better medical attention”, however there was “no forward movement” on the communication.

According to the investigation, prison department officials said that since April end, the J&K government has “moved more than a dozen Kashmiri political prisoners from various jails of the union territory (UT) and sent them to jails in Punjab and Haryana.”

However, the jails that the prisons are sent to are most vulnerable as the Covid-19 is even more contagious. According to the report Tihar Jail, had in March 2020 released 400 prisoners as it had been “stuffed to almost double its capacity, the highest ever in its history”. Tihar’s women’s jail, also reportedly has more Covid-19 cases than any other Delhi prison, stated reports. According to a report in The Hindu, two Tihar prisoners had died of Covid-19 on April 29, “the prison has since reported around 284 Covid-19 cases of among prisoners, as well as 115 among jailers” stated the report adding that “Punjab and Haryana are engulfed by a second wave of Covid-19 that is worse than J&K’s”. Yet, according to this report, “Recently, 22 prisoners detained under the PSA were moved to district jails in Karnal and Jhajjar in Haryana in April,” the J&K Prisons chief Singh was quoted as saying that this was done on orders of the home department. The Article-14 report quotes Elena Leclerc, the Health-in-Detention programme coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), saying that an outbreak of Covid-19 disease in jail can be “devastating” for prisoners… especially an overcrowded prison where general health is already low.” According to Leclerc an infectious disease is more contagious inside a prison than outside as “the rate of transmission inside places of detention will be higher than outside a detention setting because of the conditions of detention, which often have inadequate ventilation, are overcrowded, and have weaker health systems.”

A few days ago, CPI(M) leader Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami had also asked that Kashmiri political prisoners “lodged in various jails within and outside Kashmir must be released as unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases across the country had put their lives in congested jails at risk.” Tarigami issued a statement reminding the authorities of the Supreme Court’s recent directions to the high-powered committees to “consider release of fresh prisoners by adopting the guidelines of the National Legal Services Authority on the issue to decongest jails.

 

Related:

SC orders re-release of prisoners from jail amid Covid-19 surge

J & K: Prior approval for oxygen supply, gag order on doctors speaking to media

J&K admin terminates gov't employees in interest of “security of the state”

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