UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor condemned on Monday the nearly decade-long detention of former Delhi University professor and human rights activist GN Saibaba, who was arrested back in 2014 over his suspected links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Lawlor called upon Indian authorities to release Saibaba from detention, calling his continued detention amid deteriorating health conditions an “inhumane and senseless act.”
Saibaba has been primarily imprisoned since March 2017 in the Nagpur Central Jail, with the exception of two brief periods where he was granted bail. A lower court in Maharashtra convicted Saibaba on criminal charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for engaging in acts that, authorities claim, amounted to waging war against India.
Lawlor, however, described him as a “long-standing defender of the rights of minorities in India, including the Dalit and Adivasi people.” Both the Dalit and Adivasi people are classes of people within India, with the Dalit representing the lowest stratum of India’s caste system and the Adivasi representing any of the various ethnic groups native to India. Lawlor said that Saibaba’s continued detention “bears all the hallmarks of a State seeking to silence a critical voice.”
In her Monday statement, Lawlor also raised severe concerns about Saibaba’s living conditions in the jail. “Mr. Saibaba has been detained in a high security ‘anda barracks’ in conditions incompatible with his status as a wheelchair user,” she said. She explained that his small prison cell had no window and a wall made of iron bars, which exposes him to extreme weather and scorching summer heat.
A former English professor at Delhi University, Saibaba is bound to a wheelchair after suffering from a spinal disorder and polio as a child. He was sentenced to life in prison three years after his arrest in 2014 for multiple offenses under the UAPA. Since then, various UN rights experts and human rights organizations have raised grave concerns about the prosecution and his detention. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also issued an opinion in 2021 which labeled Saibaba’s continued detention as arbitrary.