UN Experts Urge India to Release Human Rights Defender Saibaba

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy
High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

UN rights experts* urged India on Thursday to release human rights defender Dr. G.N. Saibaba, a wheelchair user with severe disabilities whose health is deteriorating and who is reportedly being held in solitary confinement.

“We are concerned about reports that Dr. Saibaba is suffering from more than 15 different health problems, some of which have potentially fatal consequences,” the experts said in a joint statement released in Geneva.

Dr. Saibaba’s health is progressively and severely deteriorating because of poor jail conditions and untrained staff unable to adequately assist prisoners with disabilities. “He is now in urgent need of adequate medical treatment,” the experts added.

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“We would like to remind India that any denial of reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities in detention is not only discriminatory but may well amount to ill-treatment or even torture. In particular, solitary confinement should be prohibited when the conditions of prisoners with disabilities would be made worse by this measure,” the experts stressed.

Dr. Saibaba is a long-standing defender of the rights of various minorities in India against corporate interests. He was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017. He is reportedly now being held in solitary confinement in a highly insanitary cell in Nagpur jail, in darkness and with inadequate and inaccessible facilities.

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The Special Rapporteurs are calling on the Indian authorities to immediately ensure that Dr. Saibaba has continuous and unrestricted access to health care, including adequate treatment and rehabilitation.

They are also urging the State to effectively guarantee that all human rights defenders in India are able to conduct their legitimate work without fear of threats or exposure to any act of intimidation or reprisals.

In March 2017, Dr. Saibaba was sentenced to life imprisonment for “waging war against the state” amongst other charges. The judgment allegedly failed to point out a single instance in which Dr. Saibaba was a conspirator to commit violence or provide logistical support to violent acts.

*The UN experts: Catalina Devandas, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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Rakesh Raman