Three years in, why Dr. Kafeel Khan is still in jail?

Sruthi Vibhavari

Lucknow:  On Monday (July 27), the Allahabad High Court will hear a fresh bail petition of Dr. Kafeel Khan, who is currently booked under the National Security Act (NSA) by the Uttar Pradesh Government. Khan was initially framed for an inflammatory speech given at the Aligarh Muslim University as a part of anti-CAA protests.

Hailed a hero, framed for murder

On the night of August 10, a tragedy hit Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College when the oxygen supply ran out claiming lives of as many as 63 children. Dr. Kafeel Khan, the head of the encephalitis ward, managed to save a handful of lives by buying oxygen cylinders from his pocket and supplementing with Ambu bags. He was hailed a hero. However, the UP government accused him of medical negligence, attempt to murder, corruption, and also for having a private practice. He was blamed for the 60-odd deaths and was suspended from his medical service.

He spent nine months in jail before he was released in April 2018 on bail. A departmental inquiry absolved Dr. Khan of all the charges due to lack of evidence in charges.

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AMU speech, bail order, and NSA

Ever since, Khan has been actively vocal about what needs to be done to better the fractured system. He delivered a speech at AMU in a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act on December 12, 2019. An FIR was registered under 153A of IPC (for promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion) which alleged that his speech disturbed communal harmony and vitiated peace.

He was arrested on January 29, 2020, and the Aligarh chief judicial magistrate granted him bail on February 10. But, he was not released despite three release orders from the magistrate. Instead, he was slapped with the draconian National Security Act (1980) three days later on February 13.

The three-month NSA preventive detention cited his AMU speech as a reason for the violence between students and police that transpired on December 15.

Personal vengeance, family says

The NSA is known to be a law that is highly misused, mostly because it gives discretion to the executive. Dr Khan’s wife, Dr Shabista said that her husband is being grounded because he became a voice of dissent. She says that Dr Khan is behind the bars only because the Chief Minister of UP is settling old scores.

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“If his AMU speech is a threat to the country’s peace, why is Delhi’s Kapil Mishra still free? Why can’t he be booked under the NSA?” she questions. “People like Dr Kafeel Khan are tormented, only because they are dissenters. There is no evidence to prove the allegations, yet his tenure in jail is being extended,” Shabista adds.

Khan’s initial NSA detention ended in May. But, the UP government extended his detention for another three months. This is because the government can pass the detention order only for a maximum of three months but the overall detention can be for 12 months.

Meanwhile, the United Nations, the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum and about 100 IAS, IPS and IFS officers demanded the release of Dr. Khan from the preventive detention. Over one lakh people supported #ReleaseOurDrKafeel, which trended on social media last week.

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