Press conference for G N Saibaba Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India: Acquittal of human rights defender G.N. Saibaba reversed (Updated post)

This post has been updated as the Bombay High Court order for the acquittal of HRD G.N. Saibaba was reversed the next day by the Supreme Court of India.

Original statement on news of acquittal below:

Responding to the news of activist and Delhi University professor Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba’s acquittal by the Bombay High Court today after being in jail for more than five years under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Aakar Patel, chair of board at Amnesty International India, said:

“The acquittal of G.N. Saibaba today is a positive development and triumph of justice over repression. He should have never been jailed in the first place. The Indian authorities have targeted him solely for having spoken out against the violence and discrimination faced by the Dalit and Indigenous communities in India.  

The Indian authorities must honour their international human rights obligations by providing a safe and supportive environment in which human rights defenders and activists can carry out their work without fear of reprisals.

Aakar Patel, chair of board at Amnesty International India

“The Indian authorities routinely use the anti-terror law UAPA with stringent bail provisions as a tool to intimidate, harass and target activists like G. N. Saibaba who are perceived to be critical of the authorities. Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release all other human rights defenders and activists who continue to be arbitrarily detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and fearlessly standing up for the rights of the marginalized.

“The Indian authorities must honour their international human rights obligations by providing a safe and supportive environment in which human rights defenders and activists can carry out their work without fear of reprisals.”

Background:

G.N. Saibaba was initially arrested by the police in 2014 and accused of links to banned Maoist organisations. In March 2017, he was convicted by a sessions court in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and sentenced to life in prison.

On 14 October, 2022 the Bombay High Court acquitted G. N. Saibaba and five other co-accused in the case and directed prison authorities to release them unless accused in other matters. One of the five, Pandu Narote, has already died in prison.

G. N. Saibaba has a disability due to polio and other severe health issues including a heart condition. His health had suffered a serious deterioration exacerbated by his detention conditions and lack of access to adequate medical care. He contracted Covid-19 twice in jail, in January 2021 and in February 2022.

The courts had denied repeated appeals for parole and even requests for medical bail.

In June 2022, Amnesty International and six other international human rights groups had in a joint statement called for the immediate release of G. N. Saibaba.