Kerala: ‘Grave concern’ over 67 year old UAPA prisoner’s health

Ibrahim

“It’s against the principles of Indian Constitution to arrest those who raise their voice against the butchering of democratic rights of the tribals,” read a Facebook post by Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan in October 2020, while condemning the arrest of tribal rights activist Stan Swamy in the Bhima Koregaon case.

Ironically, in his state, a 67-year-old left activist has been imprisoned in Viyyur central jail for alleged Maoist links for the past six years. Denied bail, parole, and speedy trial, Ibrahim, who was booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), is suffering from a severe case of diabetes and cardiac issues. Though he takes 22 tablets every day, the diabetes is still not under control. As his tooth got removed as a side effect of diabetes, he is surviving on chapattis dipped in mild hot water/ tea.

On Wednesday, Ibrahim’s wife Jameela wrote to Pinarayi Vijayan asking to grant interim bail to her husband under humanitarian grounds.

“Given the ongoing second wave of coronavirus and dire warnings of health experts about a possible third wave, there is a very chance of the trial, in this case, getting further delayed and consequently his imprisonment getting prolonged. His continued stay in jail causes concern for his life itself,

Ibrahim, who hails from Nedumbala in Wayanad district, was arrested from Payyoli in Kozhikode district on 13 July 2015 for his alleged involvement with the banned outfit CPI (Maoist) and “conspiring to wage war against the state.” He was working at a vegetable shop in Payyoli. On 21 October 2020, the Kozhikode Sessions Court discharged the cases against all the accused on technical grounds as there were procedural lapses from the prosecution.  

Ibrahim’s family got to know about the arrest after they received a call from the police. “He had left home two years ago before the arrest. One day, we got a call from Vadakara police station that the police arrested him. Days after his arrest, he was taken to Kalpatta Sessions Court for the hearing. We met him from there only,” his son Noufal, an auto driver, told Maktoob. 

Simultaneously, Ibrahim was also arrested on a case registered at Vellamunda police station on 28 July 2015 in connection with a case of a civil police officer’s motorcycle being set ablaze in Wayanad. According to the FIR, Ibrahim (accused no:8) and two others arranged hideouts, food and handed over weapons to five activists of CPI(Maoist) who, with weapons including AK-47 rifle, trespassed into the house of A.B. Pramod, a senior civil police officer, threatened to kill him by pointing a gun and asked him to resign from his job. The alleged incident occurred on 24 April 2014. The FIR further states that the accused (A1 to A5) also set fire to the motorcycle parked in front of the officer’s courtyard, left pamphlets inside the house, and pasted posters calling for armed revolution. The case was later handed over to the National Investigation Agency in 2016. The case was registered under sections 143, 147, 148, 452,427, and 506(II) under the Indian penal code and sections 16, 18, 20, 38, and 39 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The trial was yet to begin as the investigating officers failed to provide the examination reports of digital evidence. However, there is no material to show the criminal intention on the part of the accused. The NIA also failed to prove the direct nexus between Ibrahim and the co-accused between the incident of handing over the weapon and committing the alleged violence. Ibrahim was lodged along with the co-accused in Viyyur central prison in Thrissur district. Initially, he was lodged at the high security prison and later got transferred to the central jail.

According to Janakiya Manushyavakasha Prasthanam, roughly translated as People’s Human Rights Forum, state secretary CP Rasheed, Ibrahim’s case exposes the undemocratic and draconian nature of UAPA.

“Before being jailed, Ibrahim had already suffered two heart attacks and he is a severe diabetes patient too. Every day he takes 22 tablets for his ailments, but still, his diabetes is not under control. He has lost most of his teeth due to diabetes and the remaining tooth was removed on the recommendation of doctors,” said Rasheed. Due to COVID guidelines, the dental implantation is not done.

“He lost seven kilos in 10 days after removing his teeth. He can only eat chapatti and other soft foods,” Rasheed continued.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Supreme Court order in March directed all states and UTs to constitute a high-powered committee (HPC) to consider releasing on parole or interim bail prisoners and the undertrials for offences involving up to 7-year jail term to decongest prisons in the wake of coronavirus pandemic. Following the order, the Kerala government ordered the release of thousands of prisoners on parole or interim bail. However, the prisoners punished under UAPA, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act(TADA), Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), and sexual assaults against children and human trafficking were excluded from parole and bail.

According to Viyyur Jail Superindentent AG Suresh, more than 200 people got released from the jail. “At least 140 people went on parole and many others went on interim bail. The prisoner attendance reduced from around 600 to approx 387. Our total capacity is 520 inmates,” he said. He claimed that jail is the safest place right now as currently there are no COVID-19 positive cases inside the jail. 

 “UAPA prisoners are deprived of all fundamental rights. The judicial principle ‘bail is the rule and jail is an exception’ does not apply to the UAPA prisoners. They are being lodged in jails inside the jails, ie high-security prisons. The state intends to have total dominance over their body and thought,” advocate Tushar Nirmal Sarathi, the lawyer who represents Ibrahim on the trial court said. 

The trial regarding the case is yet to begin. So far, Tushar had moved four bail applications at the Special Court for Trial in NIA Cases in Ernakulam and another advocate had moved two applications at the Kerala High Court. A bail application, moved in June 2016, was dismissed by the NIA Court for the reason taking into cognizance by the Kalpetta Sessions Court on charge sheet had not been challenged. Another application moved in May 2017, got dismissed as an accused, who turned approver and recorded 164 statement to the NIA, confessed Ibrahim’s involvement with the banned Maoist party. The third bail application, filed in September 2017, was also dismissed by the NIA court relying on the 164 statement. An appeal, filed before the Kerala High Court in November 2017 also got dismissed as the court found “no material warranting the interference of appellate jurisdiction.” One year later, another bail application was moved before the special court after the NIA submitted the supplementary charge sheets which contain the approver’s confession statement. The bail also got rejected citing the same reason. 

The latest bail application moved before the High Court, on behalf of Ibrahim, termed the Special Court’s repetitive dismissal of bail application as “illegal, irregular and against the end of justice,”. It further states that the entire conspiracy charge is based on two sentences which the approver said to have overheard from the conversation between Ibrahim and another accused. The petitioner further said the statement was unreliable as it is not the way how people communicate ordinarily.  

“The aim behind draconian laws such as UAPA is to alienate those people who were sincerely working for the liberation of the oppressed and to curtail the propagation of such libertarian political thoughts,” Tushar added.

Attracted to revolutionary left politics from the 1970s onwards, Ibrahim played an integral role in the protests of the late 1990s against the forcible eviction of Harrison Malayalam Plantation workers. “He organised the plantation workers in different parts of Wayanad, including his village Nedumbala, and agitated against the Harisson plantation’s plan to evict the workers. At least 12 people got arrested in that mass movement. He stood for decades together in the forefront of the struggles waged by the estate workers of Wayanad,” Rasheed recalled.

For his class consciousness and social commitment, Ibrahim had to sacrifice a lot, including his relationship with the family. As a repercussion of the struggle, Ibrahim’s wife Jameela, who worked for more than 22 years in the Harrison plantation, got fired from the job along with 8 others. “He forgot to take care of the family. He left us in such a dire situation. We are suffering because of his politics. Even our survival is getting difficult. If I had that job, my life would be secure and much better,” Jameela shared her frustration. Jameela, who lost her regular job in 1998, now works as a domestic help in the nearby coffee plantation to make both ends meet.

Allan Shuaib, who spend 10 months in Viyyur high-security prison after getting arrested in the Pantheerankavu Maoist case under draconian UAPA, fondly remembers Ibrahim as a ‘selfless communist’. “He is a class-conscious comrade. He was a fatherly figure for us. He welcomed me and Thaha (co-accused in the Pantheerankavu case) with a smile. He taught me many valuable lessons during my prison days. Ibrahim is a strong character who never bowed head in front of the police and administration,” Allan said while sharing his concerns on the absence of a full-fledged campaign for the release of Ibrahim. 

“During the independence day, Ibrahim and some other prisoners refused to participate in the parade. The jailers accused them of disrespecting the independence day celebration and locked them up for more than 14 days. But it was a lie. Ibrahim and others challenged it in court. The court observed the jailers’ actions as wrong. The court also added that Ibrahim will never lie. Such was that man. So stubborn,” Allan added.

“My father had a good reputation among the villagers. He is so generous. He lent money to many people. Father always forgot to ask them to return it. He was a hard-working daily wage labourer who dedicated his life for the people” Noufal said.

Janakiya Manushyavakasha Prasthanam, along with many other rights activists and cultural activists started a campaign ‘Free Comrade Ibrahim Collective’ demanding the release of Ibrahim. Prominent cultural activists and writers including, filmmaker Rajeev Ravi, feminist historian and social activist J Devika, poet K Satchidanandan, poet Anvar Ali, left intellectual Sunil P Ilayidam, poet Rafeeq Ahmed, Dalit activist Sunny M Kapicad, writer Kalpatta Narayanan, poet Meena Kandasamy, among others, also wrote to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, demanding the release of Ibrahim. “We request there should be the timely intervention in Ibrahim’s case as you did in the case of Malayali journalist Siddique Kappan (Kerala journalist charged with UAPA in Uttar Pradesh) and academician Hany Babu,” the letter stated.

“Be it in Jaillianwala Bagh, Punnapra-Vayalar uprising or Malabar revolt, we always have a history of being vocal about the rights of political prisoners. In recent times, there is a silence regarding the demand for political prisoners’ rights. Politics is never a criminal activity,” CP Rasheed said.

Ashfaque EJ is an independent correspondent from Kerala.