Demand to shift, release Kashmiri prisoners grows amid Covid-19 spread
Families of prisoners and detainees from Kashmir lodged in jails outside the region are worried and demanding they are brought back or released as the coronavirus disease or Covid-19 spreads across the country.
Kashmiri leaders, human rights activists and people are also making pleas to bring back prisoners and detainees many of whom have been lodged in various jails of the country under preventive detentions after the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked on August 5 last year.
Social media users have also been expressing concern over the health of Kashmiri prisoners and how jails are prone to the pandemic.
Union minister G Kishan Reddy informed Parliament in December last year that 261 prisoners belonging to Jammu and Kashmir are currently lodged in different jails of Uttar Pradesh (234) and Haryana (27). Besides, he also said, 3248 prisoners are in jails in Jammu and Kashmir.
Khuram Parvez, human rights activist and coordinator of a coalition of civil society, said that the spread of Covid-19 was a threat to the lives of prisoners and the government should release them as most of them are under preventive detentions.
“We want their immediate release. Most of them are under preventive detentions and the best safety for them right now is the confines of their homes,” Parvez said.
“At this stage, no one can disturb law and order. People in big number everywhere is a threat owing to Corona and if it goes out of control no one will be safe,” he added.
Families say many of the detainees are either of vulnerable age and some have underlying health conditions.
Relatives of 73-year-old Mian Qayoom, Kashmir High Court Bar Association president who has been detained under public safety act since August and is currently lodged in Tihar Jail, said he was vulnerable.
“He is diabetic, lives on a single kidney and also has hypertension. He is a risky patient and the coronavirus has increased our fears. Our whole extended family is disturbed,” said Mian Muzaffar, nephew of the detainee.
“On the one hand, there are advisories not to travel and on the other hand, we have to reach him as he is ailing. We all feel helpless. We just appeal the government to release him till this subsides,” he said.
While National Conference president and Srinagar member of parliament Farooq Abdullah was the first to demand last week the shifting of prisoners before their ultimate release, separatist organisation Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also demanded their release on ‘humanitarian grounds’ on Friday.
“Their well-being is under threat in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Crowded jails are most vulnerable in the spread of the virus among inmates, which is a matter of grave concern,” the Hurriyat said in a statement.
Immediately after his release, Farooq Abdullah had sought the unity of all political leaders of J&K in demanding the shifting and ultimate release of detainees.
“The already onerous financial burden (on the families of detainees) is made worse by the health risk they now face because of Covid-19. At a time when people are being advised not to travel these families are being forced to put their lives at risk,” he said.
“This is a humanitarian demand and I hope others will join me in placing this demand in front of the government of India,” he said.
VK Singh, director general of prisons in Jammu and Kashmir, refused to comment on the demands of shifting of prisoners but said they were regularly getting health updates of the detainees from outside prisons.
“I can’t comment on the shifting as that is the mandate of the home department. However, we get their health bulletin daily and the detainees are fine. However, there are those with previous case histories,” he said.
Singh said they have come up with a standard operating procedure for the prisons of the Union territory to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“All preventive steps are being taken. We have stopped mulakat to visiters, thermal screening devices have been installed in some jails while they are being procured where not installed,” he said.
“All measures of handwashing like sanitisers have also been installed. For all new admissions and those sick, two weeks of quarantine is necessary.”
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