Recognise enforced disappearance as a distinct crime: activists, formerly incarcerated persons in South Asia at Sapan virtual session

Bathinda: The South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN) organized a virtual session on Prisoners’ Rights in South Asia, especially in the light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The need to recognize enforced disappearance as a separate crime was underlined at the meeting held on the eve of International Day of Victims of Enforced Vanishing. The recent commemoration of World Humanitarian Day on 19 August also underscored the need for compassion and empathy for vulnerable communities. It was felt that the tragic situation in Afghanistan further highlights the need to emphasize solidarity and upholding human rights principles in the region.

Launched in March 2021, SAPAN is a coalition of organizations and individuals who advocate for peace, justice, democracy and human rights in South Asia, working towards a visa-free South Asia.

Nepali journalist Kanak Mani Dixit said, “If the government becomes a monster, then there are people in jail in the belly of an animal.”

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He was among activists, legal experts and formerly jailed individuals from across the region who came together online to discuss the issue.

The event featured filthy testimony in various languages ​​from people who have experienced captivity in the region, including those who were picked up but not produced before courts for months or years. Prisoners are the poorest, as many have pointed out.

The research material presented at the session included an overview of prison conditions and best practices around the area. Veteran journalist Bharat Bhushan, who initiated the roundtable with human rights advocates, suggested that Sapan publish a paper to take the issue forward.

Speakers in the evidence segment, hosted by Bangladeshi journalist Zyama Islam, included Shahidul Alam, a well-known photographer and teacher in Bangladesh and Hamid Ansari, a civil engineer in Mumbai who was imprisoned in Pakistan for six years and collaborated with journalist Geeta Mohan. The book was written. Experience.

Shahidul Alam shared photographs of artwork by inmates at Keraniganj Jail – an expression of solidarity with those lodged in Keraniganj Jail, where he was imprisoned.

Activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal in India, jailed for more than a year on hard charges that are still in dispute, spoke about their time in prison and the inhuman treatment of foreigners and children of imprisoned women. Meanwhile, Narwal lost his father to Kovid-19. Her testimony highlighted the special status of women in jail, an aspect further highlighted by PUCL’s advocate Suresh V.

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Karachi President Majeed Motani, who was lodged in Indian prisons for a few months in 1986, and his daughter Fatima Majeed, PFF Vice President, highlighted the issues faced by the families of the arrested fishermen and urged governments to Appealed. Stop the sea arrest of innocent fishermen.

“If someone crosses the border illegally and commits wrongdoing, then by all means take action,” Fatima said.

An audio recording of Asif Iqbal Milton, who spent nearly 12 years in Indian jails, was played. He was a college student when he was arrested across the border on a mistaken identity case, wrongfully imprisoned in place of Indian national Milton Burman.

She was released from prison after a painstaking legal campaign by the Bangladesh National Women’s Lawyers Association (BNWLA), working in collaboration with Indian activists.

A team from Anhad Films and PUCL Rajasthan traveled to the border area to obtain video evidence. Some had returned from prison in Pakistan, while others are still waiting for their loved ones who never returned.

PUCL’s Kavita Srivastava said, “Families are devastated, most have died, but there is no shutdown from any government side yet.”

“Whatever is criminal is not harmful and everything that causes harm is not criminalised,” Ambika Satkunathan, the leading human rights lawyer in Sri Lanka, told the experts’ session.

Emphasizing the need to rethink the idea of ​​criminal justice reform, Satkunathan referred to the work of American lawyer Alec Karakatsanis on “penal bureaucracy”, raising the issue of who defines crime and the dehumanization and dehumanization of the current system. Uses demonic nature. justify violence. She suggested a re-imagining – a change, not just prison and the existing criminal justice system where structural violence is rooted.

Eminent human rights advocate Vrinda Grover said the population of prisons mainly consists of those who are under-trials, which is a major factor in overcrowding of prisons and detention centres. He also talked about the “vengeance” of the system, highlighting the case of Father Stan Swamy – the octogenarian Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist, who was repeatedly denied bail despite his ill health, and incarcerated. He passed away after contracting Covid – as an example of custodial death.

Jatin Desai, former general secretary of Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), shared the story of Imran Kamran, a Pakistani prisoner who had died in India since 2009. Despite being given consular access three times since 2014, Pakistani authorities could not verify his identity. Verification of nationality is a prerequisite for repatriation of living and dead.

Former Indian Navy chief Laxminarayan Ramdas commented on the need to find more cooperative solutions such as the undefined maritime boundary in Sir Creek, the logic of arresting fishermen and joint fishing licenses.

Reiterating that both India and Pakistan have agreed to respect the maritime boundary agreement, Admiral Ramdas stressed that the matter is not really in the hands of either the Coast Guard or the Navy alone. “Fundamentally, it is the lack of political will on both sides that has to be addressed”.

Ekta Kapoor in Delhi and Mohammad Waqas in Lahore presented research material acknowledging the vision of regionalism and visa-free South Asia.

Researcher Priyanka Singh in Delhi shared an overview of the prison situation in South Asia, and youth activist Sarita Bartoula from Nepal offered a brief outline of best practices in countries around the region.

A ten-point motion was moved by advocate Noman Qadri in Karachi, which was supported by all.

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