Scholars at Risk sent to Indian authorities the below letter raising grave concern for the health of Professor Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba, who tested positive for COVID-19 for a second time while in Nagpur Central Prison. Professor Saibaba’s second contraction of COVID-19 raises grave concern for his already worsening health and for his ability to fight off the virus, especially if he remains in prison without appropriate medical care. SAR calls on Indian authorities to secure his immediate release on medical parole so he may receive urgent medical care.
You can support Professor Saibaba by signing this letter and reaching out to your country’s Indian diplomatic mission.
Via email to the Honorable Shri Ram Nath Kovind
President of the Republic of India
January 11, 2022
RE: Free Professor Saibaba, who contracted COVID-19 a second time!
I write on behalf of Scholars at Risk to express grave concern for the health of Professor Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba, who tested positive for COVID-19 for a second time while serving a life sentence in Nagpur Central Prison, India. Since his arrest in 2014, Professor Saibaba has been denied appropriate medical care numerous times despite suffering from various health conditions. I respectfully urge you to call on the appropriate authorities to immediately release Professor Saibaba on medical parole so he may receive urgent medical care.
Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of more than 500 universities and colleges in 42 countries dedicated to protecting the human rights of scholars around the world, and to raising awareness, understanding of, and respect for the principles of academic freedom and its constituent freedoms of expression, opinion, thought, association, and travel. In cases like this, involving alleged infringement of these freedoms, SAR investigates, hoping to clarify and resolve matters favorably.
Professor Saibaba is an English professor at Delhi University who has engaged in human rights activism on behalf of vulnerable populations in India, including tribal groups who suffer from poverty and human rights violations due to the prolonged conflict between India and the separatist Communist Party of India (Maoist). On May 9, 2014, police arrested Professor Saibaba as he left the university campus. Following the arrest, police searched his home and later claimed to have found documents and correspondence allegedly proving his connections with the CPI (Maoist) group. On March 7, 2017, Professor Saibaba was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on charges of “being a member of a terrorist gang or organization” despite a lack of credible evidence linking Professor Saibaba to the CPI (Maoist) group. Professor Saibaba has denied the charges.
Absent any information that may clarify our understanding of these events, the facts as described suggest that Professor Saibaba was arrested, detained, charged, and may have suffered mistreatment in detention, in retaliation for his nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association—conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party.
On January 10, 2022, it was reported that Professor Saibaba tested positive for COVID-19 for a second time. According to Professor Saibaba’s spouse, Vasantha Kumari, as of January 10, prison authorities have not transferred Professor Saibaba to a hospital to receive medical attention. Professor Saibaba first tested positive for COVID-19 almost a year ago, in February 2021. While authorities had sent Professor Saibaba to the Government Medical College and Hospital for a check-up, they quickly transferred him back to Nagpur Central Jail, before he was able to fully recover from the virus.
Professor Saibaba suffers from post-polio syndrome, which inhibits the use of his legs and, since his arrest, his health has deteriorated at an alarming rate. In addition to his disability, Professor Saibaba suffers from 19 health issues including life-threatening acute pancreatitis and impacted gallbladder stones, both requiring immediate surgery. He has further described cardiac complications, hypertension, and has been frequently feverish, falling unconscious, unable to sleep due to shooting pains in his left hand and leg, and suffers from severe urinary pain.
Throughout Professor Saibaba’s imprisonment, he has been subject to continued mistreatment and denial of access to medication, proper medical treatment, and appropriate wheelchair accessibility.
Professor Saibaba’s second contraction of COVID-19 raises grave concern for his already worsening health and for his ability to fight off the virus, especially if he remains in Nagpur Central Jail without any appropriate medical care.
I therefore respectfully urge you to release Professor Saibaba on medical parole; and, pending this, to ensure immediately his well-being, including ensuring access to appropriate medical care and treatment at a private hospital in Nagpur, access to medication, legal counsel, and family; and to ensure his case is addressed in a manner consistent with internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, and imprisonment, in accordance with India’s obligations under international law.
I appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to your reply.
The Honorable Narendra Modi
The Honorable N.V. Ramana
Chief Justice of India
The Honorable Bhagat Singh Koshiyari
Governor of the State of Maharashtra
The Honorable Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Ambassador T. S. Tirumurti
Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations