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FRAME-UP: A Common Refrain Among Political Prisoners, be it Umar or Saifi

The families of political prisoners raised their concerns in front of 'People’s Tribunal On Political Prisoners,' held in New Delhi, over the well-being of their loved ones. They said anything might happen under a vindictive administration. 

Ahmed Kasim | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — At a time when the courts seem to have abdicated their constitutional obligation to protect the rights and democratic aspirations of citizens, concerned citizens are bound to rise up to remind the judiciary its duties towards the nation. This was on display at a people’s tribunal held at the Indian Society of International Law, V K Krishna Menon Bhavan in New Delhi.

Styled as People’s Tribunal On Political Prisoners, the programme was organised by the Welfare Party of India. The Tribunal’s jury comprised Justice S S Parkar (former Bombay High Court judge), Prashant Bhushan (Supreme Court lawyer), Dr. Syeda Hameed (former member of the Planning Commission), Tapan Bose (film maker) and Advocate Gayatri Singh.

The programme was divided into two sessions. In the first session, the case study of jailed CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) activists Umar Khalid, Athar Khan, Khalid Saifi, Safoora Zargar, Gulfisha Fatima and others were produced before the tribunal.

Speaking on the occasion, Prashant Bhushan, the flamboyant lawyer and human rights activist, pointed out that in the last few years it has been felt that the courts are working at the behest of the government. “The courts are not fulfilling the responsibility towards the Constitution. People are being punished in the name of trial. This should not happen… The government wants to suppress the voice of dissent by using wrong laws.

In the first session families of political prisoners raised their concerns in front of the tribunal over the well-being of their loved ones. They said anything might happen under a vindictive administration. Maltreatment, third-degree torture and custodial death of inmates are not uncommon. Against this backdrop, it’s natural for the families to have genuine anxieties and apprehensions about the fate of their dear ones.

They said the way they were framed and incarcerated in jails without any proof of their culpability is a pointer to the sinister designs with which they were arrested.

Umar Khalid’s mother Mrs Sabiha said there was no proof against his son. He is a bright student. As he had no inclination to any particular career, he decided to serve his community in particular and humanity in general. But then he was suddenly implicated on false charges. Ever since the family is fighting a legal battle for his release.

Came next Nargis Saifi, wife of Khalid Saifi, a member of United Against Hate, an NGO that claims to strive for the protection of all against hate, bigotry and racism. He was implicated in a February 2020 Northwest Delhi violence case. Ever since, he is languishing in jail. Nargis complained that the media is running a trial against him.

“He is being labeled a terrorist even as no charges against him are proved,” she rued, adding “nor will they ever prove any against him, he is innocent.”

She said her husband was tortured in the jail. The police have not produced any evidence to suggest that he was sponsoring the riots, yet they charged him under Unlawful Activities Amendment Act (UAPA).

“We heard about the law for the first time. We had no clue as to what the UAPA was all about before. After invocation of the UAPA, we realised this is going to be a long struggle for us,” she narrated her story amid sobs.

The congregation lapsed into a somber mood when she explained how their children are coping with the situation. She said they keep asking her every day when their father will come back. In an emotionally charged voice she said, “My six-year-old daughter asks me who is a terrorist mummy?”

The third case was of Athar Khan. He is arrested against multiple FIRs in a Delhi riots case. His mother Noorjahan recounts the plight of his elder son. She said they have no faith in the government. “We are pitted against fascism. We will fight on, won’t back down,” she asserted.

Families of other political prisoners like Safoora Zargar, Prof Sai Baba, Hani Babu, Javed Mohammad were present on the occasion. What is common among all of them is that they all were unanimous in claiming that their loved ones were implicated on false and fabricated charges.

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Cover photo: Noted lawyer and human rights activist Prashant Bhushan speaking at the People’s Tribunal on Political Prisoners held in New Delhi on August 31.

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