Prominent international figures urge release of human rights defenders in India

Hany Babu, a 54 year old Professor of English Literature and Linguists at Delhi University and an under trial prisoner in the Bhima Koregaon case.

Over 50 eminent international figures including members of several European parliaments academics, lawyers, Nobel laureates, civil society leaders, and diasporic organisations have signed a joint statement urging the Indian government to show compassion and responsibility in the current Covid emergency, and call upon the authorities to release all arrested human rights defenders into safe conditions in the light of the dire threats to their health given the spread of Covid in Indian prisons.

The statement expresses deep concern at the growing numbers of the prison population affected by Covid-19, the overcrowded prisons, and inadequate access to health care. Additionally, Covid rules in prison make it impossible for family members to be informed of the health status of their loved ones nor provide the medical and personal care that is necessary.

The statement highlights the humanitarian emergency and points to the need to act decisively to avert further tragedy. Highlighting the case of the Bhima Koregaon 16, the statement warns that the failure to release these human rights defenders would be in violation of the state’s constitutional duty to safeguard the life of these citizens.

Among the signatories are the José Antonio Guevara-Bermúdez, Former President of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Nobel Laureates Olga Tokarczuk and Wole Soyinka, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, as well as numerous prominent lawyers and members of parliament from Germany, UK, Spain, Ireland and other countries.

The international appeal is an initiative of International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India (InSAF India), a collective of diasporic Indian academics and professionals from around the world. It states that under the present dire circumstances, release from pre-trial detention is the only way to protect the prisoners’ rights to live and die in dignity, given that legal recourse takes a long time and all of the arrested are under pre-trial detention.  

The statement accompanies a broader open letter endorsed by nearly 1,200 academics and academic associations worldwide, also calling for the release of jailed academics and civil liberties activists in India.

Following the recent revelations that the evidence in the case was planted on the defendants’ computers using malware, international legal bodies such as the American Bar Association, and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Frontline Defenders, as well as several academic and diasporic organizations have also underlined the call for their release.

“The international academic community stands in solidarity with academics and students who are targeted by the government of India for exercising their freedom of speech and academic freedom in the service of our society, and InSAF India calls on academics around the world to use all available means to support them. We strongly support preservation of the autonomy of educational and cultural institutions, and demand a complete withdrawal of state interference in higher education institutions. We condemn the Indian government’s unquestionably authoritarian, politically motivated and indefensible actions, and demand the immediate release of all imprisoned academics and civil liberties activists in the country,” read the open letter.