By SUKRITI VATS / The Print
New Delhi: A human rights organisation demanded Wednesday that jailed activist Gautam Navlakha be granted immediate bail and given a speedy trial as he has already completed two years in prison.
The Delhi-based civil liberties group, the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) said the 70-year-old undertrial was suffering from multiple health problems for over six months in solitary confinement in the high security area of Mumbai’s Taloja Jail.
Navlakha was among the 16 people arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in a case related to alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad meet in Pune in 2017. The prosecution claimed that these speeches led to violence at Bhima Koregaon in the district next day.
PUDR, in a statement, said that Navlakha, like deceased activist Stan Swamy, had to approach courts for the most basic rights. These included requests for a new pair of spectacles when his previous one broke. He had asked for a chair to alleviate severe back pain and permission to step outside the “anda circle” — a concrete area with no greenery and limited sunlight and space marked for those who committed “heinous crimes”.
His requests were either not approved, only partially fulfilled or kept pending, according to PUDR.
Most recently, Taloja Jail authorities refused to hand over a book by PG Wodehouse to Navlakha, citing security risk, which the Bombay High Court termed as “comical”.
“It is ironical that Taloja Jail authorities, who are mandated otherwise to protect inmates awaiting trial, have clearly been working in tandem with the NIA, to ‘punish’ Gautam even before guilt is proven and judgement pronounced. All the instances mentioned above amount to ‘soft torture’ a term coined by Stan Swamy to describe the insidious nature of coercion exercised by authorities against prisoners in custody,” the letter stated.
The letter asked whether being implicated in a case such as Bhima Koregaon divests an accused of other legal rights, such as the right to life. “It definitely seemed so!” the letter said.
“The NIA court has repeatedly relied on evidence that at times has been presented in sealed envelopes to deny regular bail… Moreover, the NIA has still not provided to the accused cloned copies of the files containing the incriminating evidence despite several applications,” the letter further said.
The PUDR also listed other demands such as immediate bail and fair trial to all the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case. They want the NIA removed from the case, and also the repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.