In India, Muslim UAPA prisoners persecuted for their faith: Families tell US congressional briefing

Briefing on the increasing human rights violations in India, several rights organisations based in America including Amnesty International conferenced a session with the families of Muslim political prisoners charged with draconian UAPA on Wednesday.  

Families of Umar Khalid, Khalid Saifi, Siddique Kappan, and Masud Ahmad complained that court hearings are deliberately delayed and how hostile police and prisons are towards the families.

While United Against Hate activists Umar Khalid and Khalid Saifi were arrested in connection to northeast Delhi violence, journalist Siddique Kappan and Jamia Millia Islamia student Masud Ahmed were arrested on their way to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh to report the rape and murder of a Dalit girl. 

Raju Rajagopal, co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights and host of the session, ‘Congressional Briefing with India’s Prisoners of Conscience’ clarified that these are not issues of internal matter but a gross violation of human rights.

The online conference was co-hosted by The Amnesty International, Indian American Council, Hindus for Human Rights, International Christian Concern, and Dalit Solidarity Forum, and several other groups.

“While Khalid suffers physical torture in jail, we suffer mental torture here,” says Nargis Saifi, wife of Khalid Saifi.

“Khalid Saifi was always a call away for many, Nargis says.

Nargis said her husband is getting punished for raising his voice against the current government. “It breaks my heart narrating this incident, which made our lives miserable, and made us feel how helpless we are.”

Saifi’s sister also joined the event, “He has three small kids. They all miss their father. He is a great man who does everything for his children and his wife. His children ask about him every single day — when will we be able to see our father? When will we eat food with him? When will we play with him? And we can’t even reply to this question,” she said.

Sharing her long travels up and down from Kerala to Uttar Pradesh for her husband and journalist Siddique Kappan, Raihanath said, “Kappan contracted COVID-19 in Mathura jail and his health deteriorated. He was admitted to AIIMS, only after the Supreme Court intervened. Along with my son, I traveled from Kerala to Uttar Pradesh, during the surge of the pandemic.”

“I begged the officials at AIIMS to meet my husband. And though the court verbally permitted us to visit Kappan, we were never given a chance ”, says Raihanath.

Raihanath further said she stayed in Delhi for six days and hoped to meet her ailing husband but she left home without meeting him.

Kappan’s wife also elaborated how Kappan was arrested and kept in jail without filing a chargesheet. “The chargesheet was only filed just two days prior to the completion of six months, to make his bail possibilities slim.”

Raihanath went on to say: “The UAPA was used against a journalist without any evidence. In India, it is not possible for a journalist to work freely from the ground. He went through a lot of harsh human rights violations in jail.”

Umar Khalid’s father and a veteran Muslim leader Syed Qasim Rasool Ilyas said that his son was slapped twice with sedition charges, first in 2016 when he was a student in JNU and later in September 2020. “He was released after the court found the evidence was fabricated. He had difficulty submitting his thesis and had to approach the court.”

Sharing that his son is keeping his spirits up, Ilyas said “My son has completed reading 70 books in prison.”

Masud Ahmed’s brother, Monis Ahmed said his brother dreamt of becoming a civil servant, but his dreams were shattered after his arrest.

“My brother always stood for justice. He is being treated like a terrorist for speaking up for the Hathras Dalit rape victim,” said Monis, brother of jailed Jamia Millia Islamia student and Campus Front of India leader.

“The court is under pressure from the government. The court hearings are being delayed deliberately,” Monis added.

Khan rejected the police’s allegation that Ahmed had planned to incite violence at Hathras. “It has been one year, and they still have no evidence [against him] to produce in court.”

The loved ones of the incarcerated requested international intervention in the abrogation of all draconian laws like UAPA and the release of all political prisoners.

Citing the imprisonment of political prisoners of Bhima Koregaon cases for more than three years, and the death of Father Stan Swamy in jail, SQR Ilyas said, “We fear that more hard times are going to come. This is a fascist government. Democracy and civil society are under threat in India today.”