Authorities in Maharashtra are denying potentially life-saving medical treatment to Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba, putting his health at grave risk, Amnesty International India said today.
On 7 March, G N Saibaba, an activist and academic, was convicted of membership and support for the Communist Party of India (Maoist) - a banned armed group - and sentenced to life imprisonment by a Maharashtra court. He is being detained at the Nagpur central jail. Saibaba’s legs are almost completely paralyzed and he is a wheelchair user. In February, he was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis and advised to have his gall bladder removed. Following his arrest, his condition has considerably worsened.
“Denying medical treatment to a prisoner is never justified, and can amount to torture,” said Abhirr VP, Senior Campaigner at Amnesty International India. “Saibaba has not lost his right to medical care simply because he is in prison. Authorities must transfer him to a hospital outside to receive any specialized medical care that he needs which is not available in prison.”
In a letter written to his wife on 14 March, Saibaba said: “With added new problems of an attack on my pancreas, I turned more vulnerable as I am not able to digest the food given in jail. Apart from all other 19 health issues of my vital organs, this problem has become severe as I have to eat something to take huge amounts of medicines and if I eat anything I am not able to digest.”
Speaking to Amnesty International India, G N Saibaba’s advocate, Surendra Gadling, said, “I met the professor on 21 March and he looked really weak. He has immense pain because of the acute pancreatitis and he needs to be admitted in a super specialty hospital where an immediate surgery must be done. The Nagpur central jail has no such facilities. We made an appeal to the court on 7 March to allow him his medicines, but the court did not grant permission… Prison authorities have also denied his request to wear a lungi instead of trousers, and a better mattress, since he has acute shoulder pain.”
Prison authorities refused to formally respond to Amnesty International India’s questions. An official at the Nagpur prison, who asked not to be named, said that jail doctors were treating G N Saibaba and that he was ‘fine’. They denied that he had been refused a lungi or a better mattress.
“When denying medical care to a prisoner causes severe pain or suffering and is intentionally done to punish or intimidate, it amounts to torture, which is a crime under international law,” said Abhirr VP.
G N Saibaba was denied medical care earlier as well, when he was detained by the Maharashtra police in May 2014 for his alleged links with the CPI (Maoist) armed group. In March 2016, the Supreme Court of India granted him bail on medical grounds after his health deteriorated. According to media reports, the court said the Maharashtra government had been “extremely unfair to the accused, especially considering his health”.
India is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, which impose an absolute prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, state that the provision of healthcare of prisoners is a state responsibility, and that prisoners “should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community” without discrimination. The Mandela Rules also provide that prisoners who require specialist treatment must be transferred to specialized institutions or outside hospitals when such treatment is not available in prison.