SAURABH SHARMA/101 REPORTERS
Lucknow: For the 12th time in five months, the Allahabad High Court on 27 July 2020 deferred a hearing for Kafeel Khan, a doctor incarcerated in Mathura jail for a speech he delivered at Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh Muslim University in December 2019.
“We are now feeling helpless, and we don’t know what to do next,” elder brother Adeel Ahmad Khan told Article 14. The Supreme Court on 18 March, based on a petition from his mother, transferred Kafeel Khan’s case to the Allahabad High Court.
Jailed for a speech
Khan has been in jail since 29 January or 180 days for a speech in which he criticised the government during the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. He was granted bail on 10 February by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Aligarh but wasn’t allowed to leave jail. Three days later, the UP government of Yogi Adityanath brought charges under the 40-year-old National Security Act, 1980, against the former government lecturer and paediatrician.
The NSA, under which Kafeel Khan is detained, does not define the term “national security”. What it does is define situations in which an order for detention under the NSA may be passed. These include threats to the defence or security of India.
Section 3 (2) of the Act, under which Khan was detained, empowers the government to detain a person “with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the state or from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order or from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community it is necessary so to do, make an order directing that such person be detained”.
Khan has been deemed to be a threat to public order.
Yet, there is no instance where public order has been threatened or has been disrupted due to Khan, wrote lawyer Sarim Naved on Article 14. According to the request for the issue of detention orders under the NSA, Khan allegedly made a speech critical of ‘Mota Bhai’ (a reference to Home Minister Amit Shah) and the CAA. Khan said in his speech that “Mota bhai teaches us to become Hindu or Muslim but not human beings.”
Jailed in the pandemic
“I don’t know why I am being punished,” Khan wrote in a recent letter from his cramped jail barrack. “With just one attached toilet, 125-150 inmates, the smell of their sweat and urine mixed with unbearable heat due to electricity cuts makes life hell over here: A living hell indeed.”
“There are many things that can go wrong with my brother in jail,” said Adeel Ahmad Khan. “The jail is overcrowded and he may get murdered. The government is also creating a lot of pressure, and Kafeel can take any extreme step owing to it. Secondly, the coronavirus is also spreading in jails and my brother is at risk.”
If the hearing is again postponed on the next date, 5 August, then Kafeel Khan’s wife, Shabista Khan, who is also a doctor, will protest in front of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in Lucknow, Adeel Ahmad Khan said.
The Congress party said on 26 July that it was collecting signatures from UP’s districts demanding that Khan be released. On Twitter, doctors have been issuing video testimonials such as this and this urging the government to release Khan as soon as possible.
UP Govt. suspended Kafeel Khan
Kafeel Khan was suspended from UP government service when the sudden cessation of oxygen supply on 10 August 2017 killed more than 60 children at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College in the eastern UP town of Gorakhpur, 270 km northeast of state capital Lucknow. After he spent almost nine months in prison for alleged medical negligence, a government-appointed inquiry exonerated Kafeel Khan in September 2019.
“Questioning government policy is not a big deal,” Harjit Singh Bhatti, the president of the Progressive Medicos & Scientist Forum, told Article 14. “This was not such a big issue that the NSA was needed against him. He should be released immediately.”
“There is a threat to Dr Khan’s life in jail as the coronavirus is spreading, and jails are overcrowded,” said Bhatti. “There are chances that he may contract some infection. He is not any hardened criminal who will become a threat to public safety after coming out of jail. We will speak to the IMA (Indian Medical Association) regarding our demand for his release.”
“Dr Khan got a clean chit in the internal inquiry but he was suspended again, then he was jailed, then freed on bail, then another case was filed against him and he was put back in jail,” said Bhatti. “All this means that the government is deliberately getting after him.”
Anand Rai, an Indore-based surgeon and activist said Kafeel Khan was being punished for being Muslim.
“The boy (Dr Kafeel Khan) is being targeted for being Muslim,” said Rai. “I have been monitoring him from the last two-three years and his only fault is that he is Muslim, and he got famous for trying to save the lives of kids at BRD Medical college in Gorakhpur, which the government could not digest.”
(Saurabh Sharma is an independent journalist based in Lucknow and a member of101Reporters.com.)