Launched in March 2021, Sapan is a coalition of organizations and individuals defending peace, justice, democracy and human rights in South Asia, working for a visa-free South Asia.
“If the government becomes the monster it can be, then the belly of the beast contains the people in prison,” Nepalese journalist Kanak Mani Dixit said.
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He was among activists, legal experts and formerly incarcerated people from across the region who gathered online to discuss the matter.
The event featured heartbreaking testimonies in various languages from those who have been incarcerated in the region, including those who were arrested but not brought to court for months or years. Those who fill the prisons tend to be the poorest, as many have pointed out.
Research papers presented during the session included an overview of prison conditions and best practices in the region. Seasoned journalist Bharat Bhushan, who moderated the roundtable with human rights defenders, suggested Sapan publish an article to take the issue forward.
Among the speakers in the testimony section moderated by Bangladeshi journalist Zyma Islam were well-known photographer and educator Shahidul Alam in Bangladesh and Hamid Ansari, the civil engineer from Mumbai who was incarcerated in Pakistan for six years and wrote a book with journalist Geeta Mohan on her heartbreak. experiences.
Shahidul Alam shared photographs of artwork made by inmates at Keraniganj Prison – an evocative expression of solidarity by and with those incarcerated at Keraniganj Prison where he was imprisoned.
Activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal in India, imprisoned for more than a year on harsh charges that are still disputed, spoke of their stay in prison and the inhuman treatment of foreigners and children of imprisoned women. Meanwhile, Narwal lost his father to Covid-19. Their testimonies highlighted the particular situation of imprisoned women, an aspect further emphasized by lawyer Suresh V of PUCL.
Karachi President of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Majeed Motani who was held in Indian prisons for a few months in 1986 and his daughter Fatima Majeed, PFF vice-president, highlighted the problems faced by the families of the arrested fishermen and pointed out called on governments to stop maritime arrests of innocent fishermen.
“If someone crosses the border illegally and engages in wrongdoing, take action by all means,” Fatima said.
An audio recording of Asif Iqbal Milton, who spent nearly 12 years in Indian prisons, has been released. He was a student when he was arrested across the border in a mistaken identity case, wrongly jailed in place of Indian national Milton Barman.
He was released from prison after a painstaking legal campaign by the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA), working with Indian women activists.
A team from Anhad Films and PUCL Rajasthan went to the border area to obtain video testimonies. Some had returned from prison in Pakistan, while others are still awaiting loved ones who never returned.
“The families are devastated, most are dead but no closures yet from the two governments,” said Kavita Srivastava of PUCL.
“Anything that is criminalized is not harmful and anything that harms is not criminalized,” Ambika Satkunanathan, human rights lawyer in Sri Lanka, told the expert session.
Emphasizing the need to rethink the idea of criminal justice reform, Satkunanathan referred to the work of American lawyer Alec Karakatsanis on the “sanctions bureaucracy”, raising the question of who defines a crime and the dehumanizing nature and demonizing of the current system that states use to justify violence. She suggested a reimagining – a transformation, and not just of existing prison and criminal justice systems where structural violence is inherent.
Renowned human rights defender Vrinda Grover observed that prison populations largely include people on trial, a major factor in the overcrowding of prisons and detention centers. She also spoke of the “vindictive nature” 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 fragile health, and has died. after contracting Covid in prison – as a death in custody case.
Jatin Desai, former secretary general of Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) told the story of Pakistani prisoner Imran Kamran, who died in India after being incarcerated there since 2009. Although he obtained three times consular access since 2014, Pakistani officials had not been able to verify his identity. Verification of nationality is a prerequisite for the repatriation of the living and the dead.
Former Indian Navy chief Laxminarayan Ramdas commented on the undefined maritime border at Sir Creek, the logic of continuing to arrest fishermen and the need for a more cooperative solution, such as joint fishing licenses.
Reiterating that India and Pakistan have agreed to abide by the maritime boundary agreement, Admiral Ramdas said the issue was not really in the hands of the coastguard or the navies. “Basically, it is a lack of political will on both sides that needs to be corrected.”
Aekta Kapoor in Delhi and Mohammad Waqas in Lahore, presented research papers acknowledging a vision of regionalism and a visa-free South Asia.
Delhi researcher Priyanka Singh shared an overview of prison conditions in South Asia and young activist Sarita Bartaula from Nepal presented a brief overview of best practices in countries in the region.
The ten-point resolution was presented by lawyer Noman Quadri in Karachi and was approved by all.