Srinagar: With the threat of a coronavirus outbreak looming large over inmates in prisons, Member of Parliament Hasnain Masoodi has urged Home Minister Amit Shah to revoke detention orders against those detained in jails within and outside Kashmir.
The National Conference leader wrote a letter to Shah, which said that “the detention as universally accepted, because of overcrowding, is in conflict with social distancing – a key response to COVID-19 crisis.”
Over 200 inmates from the Kashmir valley have been lodged at different jails in Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh since August last year. More than 80 inmates are in Agra jail alone.
As many as 23 persons from Kashmir have suffered different health problems including psychiatric issues, in In Uttar Pradesh’s jails. Several, including 70-year-old Kashmir High Court Bar Association president Mian Abdul Qayoom, were faced with severe health deterioration. Qayoom was shifted from Agra jail to Tihar last month, on account of being seriously unwell.
Hundreds of people including lawyers, politicians, activists, trade leaders and businessmen were detained last year as a "preventive measure" ahead of abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories on August 5.
While many – mainly leaders from mainstream political parties have been released – scores continue to be held under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) in various jails within and outside Kashmir.
Over 14,700 people have died and over 3 lakh people have been infected by the coronavirus with China, Italy and Iran among the worst-hit countries.
Experts have said that the virus has mostly affected older people or people with existing medical conditions, a fact which has compounded concerns among those who have been jailed since August.
As many as 115 inmates in jails within and outside Kashmir are above the age of 50. According to official records, Srinagar's central jail has more than 60 inmates above the age of 50, and have been incarcerated since August. Out of them, more than 20 are above the age of 60.
“The detainees, it needs to be realised, are detained without charge and (are on) trial on a mere suspicion, later found to be misplaced. There are numerous judicial pronouncements commanding the government to lodge the detenue in a jail nearest to home so that the relatives and friends visit the dentenue," Masoodi wrote.
In his letter dated March 23, the NC MP added that the lockdown imposed on travel in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak will make it impossible for relatives to visit the detenue lodged outside the region.
Masoodi's letter comes at a time when people on social media have pointed out the vulnerability of inmates in these jails, raising an alarm so that the government avoids a possible disaster.
“The detainees, otherwise held without charge or trial, against said backdrop, deserve to be released and the detention orders revoked (sic),” Masoodi pointed out.
Due to fear from the outbreak and on advocacy by experts, many facilities in the US have already released scores of inmates, especially the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases.