Puja Awasthi

Kafeel Khan, the doctor who was recently absolved of charges under the National Security Act, has written to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), thanking it for calling upon the Indian government to release human rights defenders who were jailed for protesting against the changes in the citizenship laws.

Khan, a pediatrician, was jailed for seven months for a speech he had given at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) as part of the protests. The high court, while squashing the charges against him, had said of his speech that it “does not disclose any effort to promote hatred or violence”. He was subsequently released from Mathura jail on September 2.

On June 26, the UN’s human rights body had written to the Indian government. It had specifically mentioned 11 cases, among those that of Khan and Sharjeel Imam, for “serious allegations of human rights violations, several relating to due process failings during arrest and detention, as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment”.

Khan in his letter, dated September 19, says, “Government didn’t listen to the appeal and many others are still incarcerated behind the bars amid the COVID-19 pandemic creating havoc inside congested prisons all over India”.

Khan had first shot into prominence during the Gorakhpur oxygen gas tragedy of August 2017 at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College, in which many children lost their lives due to the unavailability of liquid oxygen. He has since been suspended from his job, but not relieved from the state services and is thus unable to practise or join elsewhere. Inquiries have absolved him of any wrongdoing in the tragedy, but he has been widely perceived as a scapegoat. There was an also an attempt on his brother’s life during which Khan claims the UP police was “insensitive” and did its utmost to delay the operation which was required to remove the bullets. In his letter he calls for an impartial probe into the two incidents.

“I wish both incidents should be investigated by CBI to rule out any complicity of state officials in these incidents”, Khan writes in the letter to the UN.

He also says that putting him behind bars shall not deter him. “….trying to suppress my voice by physically and mentally torturing me is not going to break my zeal, my enthusiasm, my commitment to my country and it’s democratic values. The difficulties which my family faces are making me more determined to achieve my objectives and win against all odds”.

“I believe in this era when COVID-19 is creating havoc in our country, it is indeed essential to engage all strength and means to fight against the pandemic rather than using discretionary powers to suppress freedom of speech,” it read.

He also appealed to the body to continue standing by human rights defenders/social activists and students.

“The use of stringent national security laws/ UAPA against political dissenters, in the absence of any appeal to violence, is something to be condemned in all cases,” he said.

This story first appeared on September 20, 2020 in ‘The Week’ here.