In Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, overcrowded prisons in the territory turn into COVID-19 epicentres as 35 fresh cases were reported in Srinagar Central Jail.
Last year in August, when Modi government repealed the special status of IIOJK after abrogating the Article 370, the number of inmates in the prison witnessed a sudden increase. The occupation authorities have recently stepped up their operations and hundreds of youth while several people have also been imprisoned for anti-India dissent on social networking sites.
The new 35 COVID-19 positive cases at one of the biggest prisons in the occupied territory has come weeks after more than 90 inmates were found positive at Islamabad district jail. Capable of holding not more than 3,234 inmates, prisons in IIOJK currently have 3,700 inmates. The number of prisoners remains more than double in some jails, like the Islamabad district jail, while the detainees include several hundred women as well as senior citizens (above the age of 60).
Local prison officials admitted that the capacities in IIOJK prisons were inadequate. With fresh cases, the families of detainees have expressed worries over the condition of the inmates.
Qazi Umair, brother of journalist Qazi Shibli, said that the authorities chose to detain Shibli in the middle of the pandemic. “My brother has been taken into preventive custody. He was detained last month on the eve of Eid and is now lodged at the Srinagar central jail. He was detained first at the police lockup before he was shifted to the prison,” Umair said.
Earlier, Shibli was released after being detained for nine months in a prison outside IIOJK in the run-up to the abrogation of special status over tweets about the deployment of thousands of troops in Kashmir. His fresh detention came after he ran a story and also tweeted that the coverage of media channels accusing US-based Kashmiri architect, Tony Ashai, of being close to Pakistani establishment was “part of a larger conspiracy to vilify Kashmiris”.
Human rights defender and Chairman of International Forum for Justice and Human Rights J&K, Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, said that the prisoners were cramped in Srinagar Central Jail. “A single barrack of few feet houses some 25 inmates,” he said.
Untoo was recently released as the authorities didn’t press any fresh charges against him after the tenure of his detention under draconian law, Public Safety Act (PSA) expired last week. He was detained last year on 5th August. “Over a thousand police and other government forces personnel had surrounded my house in Rajbagh and whisked me away,” he said.
“The condition of the prisoners in the Central jail is pathetic. The facility is cramped and prisoners are not provided proper medicine, food and drinking water,” he said.
On 16 July, among the 190 prisoners lodged at the Islamabad district jail, around 90 tested positive. Officials said that the inmates contracted the disease during the medical screening camp at the prison. Though some inmates were shifted outside Kashmir Valley, the jail still houses 150 prisoners against the capacity of 70 only.
Untoo said that while his petition seeking the revocation of his detention order under the Public Safety Act (PSA) was reserved for judgment before the High Court he was released after the end of his one-year detention term. He was detained in August after being charged that his human rights campaigns were tarnishing the image of Indian forces. The Indian forces have been involved in serious human rights violations in the occupied territory.