Suggestions and conclusion:
The existence of political prisoners in India is a reality that no sincere CL&DR activist can shy away from. Historically , these ‘enemies of the state’ who acted as per the interest and dreams of the oppressed masses have been stigmatised, persecuted, tortured, arrested or just killed in false encounters or ‘disappearances’. Even while in prison they have been segregated from the ordinary prisoners lest they ‘contaminate’ the latter’s consciousness and even physically beaten whenever they stood up for the latter’s rights. In essence, the State not only seeks to isolate and annihilate them physically but also ideologically and politically. The Constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech, belief, expression and association and also the rights to self-determination, right to a decent living and subsistence, right to development, right to dissent have been denied for the oppressed sections of our society. The protection and struggle for the implementation of their rights has been the primary objective of the CL&DR movement and hence their existence of political prisoners which is indicative of these violations becomes a concern for the movement.
The task of the CL&DR movement in this field is manifold. It primarily entails persuading the Government to recognise the existence of political prisoners, to undertake measures for the protection of their rights and to demand their unconditional release. Below are a mention of some demands before the Government that follow from these broad objectives.
- Need of a legislation on recognising the category of political prisoners as per the Internationally recognised practices and norms in accordance with the UN covenant on prisoners, to which the Government of India is a signatory.
- To treat political prisoners in accordance with the Internationally recognised principles, standards and conventions such as the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the government is a signatory and the Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, 1977. In the event of capture or arrest of combatants of armed resistance movements operating in India, they should be recognised and declared as ‘prisoners of war’ and be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention to which India is a signatory.
- The Colonial Era Indian Prisons Act,1894 should be immediately scrapped and replaced by an up-to-date one incorporating international HR standards and principles and NHRC recommendations.
- Special and extraordinary laws used to persecute political activists such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, National Security Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, and similarly draconian State laws should be repealed. Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian penal Code should be scrapped. Ban on all organisations proscribed by these acts or Government notifications should be lifted to provide a conducive atmosphere for the resolution of grievances and conflicts.
- An immediate end to all ‘false encounters’ and ‘disappearances’, which are used as methods by the police and armed forces to eliminate political opponents, should be enforced . Towards this end, it should be made ‘mandatory to register FIRs , whenever an encounter death takes place’, so that it ‘would be the [judicial] magistrate and not the police who would have the power to decide whether to continue the trial or close the case’.
- For the Unconditional Release of all Political Prisoners.
- Abolition of Death Penalty
In accordance with the afore mentioned demands, it is suggested that the CL&DR movement especially those organisations specifically dealing with the concerns of political prisoners, pay attention to spreading public awareness on these issues and pushing for improvements in jail conditions. It is evident from history, that the government has conceded to the recognition and release of political prisoners only when compelled to do so due to popular demands and pressure of people’s movements. Hence it is imperative that the CL&DR movement focus on building such public opinion regarding the existence of political prisoners and their conditions of incarceration, by the following suggested methods.
- Facts are essential to prove a social reality. Hence prison surveys, information drives among Advocates of political prisoners, use of the Right to Information Act, 2005 or many more creative methods should be employed to compile a comprehensive list of political prisoners.
- A high number of Political prisoners are economically incapable of engaging legal assistance commensurate to the seriousness and the number of charges/cases levelled against them. It is therefore of urgent need that legal experts and advocates be arranged so as to ensure their proper defence during trial and their release without harassment. It has also been a tradition within the CL&DR movement to attend such trials as observers so that the legal rights of such political prisoners are not violated.
- By the very fact of their existence, political prisoners are in a continuous struggle against the oppressive Jail conditions. Struggles are being waged daily in the forms of vocal protests, written memorandums, non-co-operation with prison discipline or the method of Hunger strike .However in most instances these just struggles are brutally crushed by violent or punitive measures. To break this isolation and suppression the CL&DR movement needs to intervene and express it solidarity to these jail struggles by fact-finding missions, dharnas, rallies etc. so as to generate public support and compel the Jail administration to implement Human Rights standards.
- Present conditions in the prisons are way below even officially authorised standards. The government’s lack of commitment and denial of funds for improving the conditions in prisons has ensured that jail conditions continue to remain substandard, and widespread corruption within the jail department and the various supervisory bodies has aggravated it. All this continues shamelessly, because it is shielded from public scrutiny. It is therefore important that the CL&DR movement reveals this true picture by visiting prisons and publishing reports on prison conditions for widespread coverage in the media.
During the last decade or so, the ‘problem’ of political prisoners has grown immensely and has rightly become an increasingly major concern for the CL&DR movement in India. Many All-India and State level organisations have been formed specifically dedicated to this cause. These developments are indeed heartening and have been viewed by us political prisoners as positive. Nevertheless, there is still a lot that needs to be accomplished to ensure The Unconditional Release of All Political Prisoners.
Many of the demands mentioned have already been put forth by the CL&DR movement and particularly in the declaration of the’ Committee for Release of Political prisoners’ ( see APPENDIX ‘C’)
This was a verdict pronounced by a 5 judge bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court on 6th Feb.2009 after hearing a petition filed by the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC). The AP Police Officers Association challenged this decision before the Supreme Court and acquired a stay on the same.