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Political prisoners should be among first released in pandemic response: United Nations




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The United Nations logo displayed outside the organisation’s headquarters in New York, US | Photo: Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg

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United Nations: The UN human rights body has urged nations to release individuals detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, as the world body stressed the need to take a very close look at incarcerations and reduce overcrowding in prisons to prevent catastrophic rates of COVID-19 infection.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said recently in Geneva that some countries have been announcing prisoner releases of varying numbers, including of specific at-risk groups such as pregnant women, people with disabilities, elderly prisoners, those who are sick, minor and low-risk offenders, people nearing the end of their sentences and others who can safely be reintegrated into society.

“We urge states to release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views,” Colville said.

“We stress that with respect to people fairly convicted of serious crimes recognised under international law, or prisoners who might pose serious risk to others, they should only exceptionally be considered for temporary release from custody during the course of the pandemic,” he said.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesperson Stephane Dujarric on Monday said that the UN chief “believes that member states need to take a very close look at incarcerations during a time of COVID-19. It’s something the High Commissioner for Human Rights has spoken out about.”

Dujarric was responding to a question about the release of prisoners in Kashmir.

He added, “As for the situation in Kashmir, he (Secretary General) very much believes that any political solution must take into consideration the issue of human rights.”

Also read: Ex-Jammu & Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti shifted to residence from make-shift jail


Last week, Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has appealed to prevent “catastrophic” rates of infection, as the number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases continues to rise worldwide.

Colville added that the UN agency continues to urge all countries to review who is being held and to take measures as soon as possible to ensure the physical distancing necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 becomes feasible.

He noted that Iran has increased releases to around 100,000 inmates — representing 40 per cent of the entire prison population — and that Indonesia has announced that it would free 30,000 individuals convicted of minor crimes, including drug use.

“And we understand India and Turkey are similarly considering or in the process of releasing a large number of inmates,” he said.

The Uttar Pradesh government has decided to free 11,000 prisoners lodged in 71 jails in the state amid the COVID-19 outbreak in India.

The Tihar Prison authorities in Delhi also said they are planning to release around 3,000 prisoners to ease congestion in jails over the coronavirus threat. Other prisons in India are also taking similar steps.

Concerns remain about Syrian detainees.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has described the situation in all official prisons and makeshift detention facilities in Syria as “alarming”.

Well before the COVID-19 outbreak, the OHCHR warned of overcrowding in central prisons and in facilities run by the four government security branches as the nine-year civil war still rages, and in the Sednaya military prison.

Previous reports from the UN office have highlighted deaths in these facilities, including as a result of torture and denial of medical care.

Vulnerable people detained in Syria include the elderly, women, children and many with underlying health conditions — some of them as a result of ill-treatment and neglect, experienced while in detention, the OHCHR said.

Also read: Covid-19 can push 40 crore informal sector workers in India deeper into poverty: ILO


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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’




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A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay

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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”

Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot

‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.

Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


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