Terming the charges against incarcerated peasant and human rights leader from Assam, Akhil Gogoi, as “frivolous”, the National Alliance of People’s Movement has demanded his immediate release. Leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, Gogoi has been in jail for over 200 days, charged under a multitude of “ill-conceived charges”, according to NAPM.
Along with Gogoi, several other activists and student leaders including Dhaijya Konwar, Bittu Sonowal and Manas Konwar are also lodged in jail since the past six months. The leaders were arrested following their participation in the anti-CAA protests in Assam, which rocked the country in December 2019 and January-February 2020. The United Nations as well as other human rights bodies and several prominent political leaders have requested the release of these activists time and again.
Recently, around 1,200 inmates of the Guwahati Central Jail, where these under-trial are lodged, staged a protest demanding the release of the jailed activists, along with pleas related to COVID-19 measures within the jail. The inmates went on hunger strike for two days on June 25 and 26, according to Hussain Md Shahjahan, adviser to KMSS. Highlighting the increasingly pathetic conditions inside the jail premises, Shahjahan reportedly said that the social distancing norms and other guidelines are not being followed inside the jail.
It should be noted that last month, the jail premises had been sealed after an inmate had tested positive for COVID-19. "In view of the detection of a COVID-19 positive patient at Central Jail in Guwahati city, in the interest of maintenance of public hygiene and to prevent further spread of COVID-19 virus in the said area, the Central Jail area is declared as a Containment Zone,” the order dated June 5 issued by the Kamrup Metropolitan Deputy Commissioner Biswajit Pegu had said, according to PTI.
The eight-point demands of the inmates included quarantining the new inmates before they are assigned cells with the existing inmates. They have also demanded other healthcare facilities and regular supply of clean drinking water,increase the scheduled 2 minutes of conversation time with the relatives and lawyers to at least 10 minutes, etc. As per local reports, Akhil Gogoi along with other jailed activists and JNU student Sharjeel Imam, who is facing sedition charges, also participated in the hunger strike and protest within the jail premises.
It has been reported that the prisoners resorted to the hunger strike after several letters to the jail authorities demanding better facilities, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, remained unanswered. The prisoners also demanded that visitors, especially lawyers, be allowed to meet the prisoners, following COVID-19 guidelines.
Meanwhile, inspector general of prisons, Dasarath Das, claimed to Time8 website that the inmates withdrew the strike “on June 25”. Das said it was after they “negotiated and agreed to recommend the demands to the state government for early consideration”. Das also said that all new inmates have been kept in 14-day quarantine in separate wards within the jail premises.