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COVID-19: Lives At Risk In Assam's Detention Centres

April 7, 2020

Amid the rising COVID-19 cases, the Amnesty International India has urged Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal to immediately release detention centre detainees.

There are six detention centres in Assam, which are "overpopulated".

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Amid the COVID-19 pandemic the government to release over 700 prisoners to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID19) outbreak.

The request follows the release of the inmates.

“In our 2018 briefing on the detention centres in Assam- Between Fear and Hatred: Surviving Migration Detention in Assam- we found that the authorities indefinitely detained Indian citizens who were declared foreigners in a discriminatory manner," said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director at Amnesty International India.

"It also documented appalling living conditions including overcrowding, separation from families, lack of segregation between different categories of prisoners, high levels of depression and inadequate medical facilities in the detention centres," Kumar added.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across India, the Assam Government must recognise that the detainees in overcrowded detention centres face a heightened risk of infection and must do everything to protect them starting with their immediate release,” he said.

Speaking to Amnesty International India in 2018, a doctor who had been working with prison inmates and detainees in Assam had said that in some detention centres with a capacity of about 250 inmates, the authorities had kept up to 400 inmates.

Bina Rani Saha who was detained in the Kokrajhar detention centre for two years had given a similar account of the detention centre.

“We were surrounded by walls. Not even a cat or dog could enter. I remember there were a lot of people. We slept on the floor on blankets. All of us in rows next to one another," she said.

Seventy-one-year old, Rahima Bibi who was also in the same detention centre had said, “There were 50 or 60 or 70 of us in one room. We were all kept together.”

Currently, there are 31 jails including 6 central jails and 22 district Jails in Assam.

According to the National Crime Record Bureau, there are 8,282 prisoners across Assam at the end of 2018.

The six detention centres that hold around over 800 “irregular foreigners” are also housed inside Assam prisons.

With an occupancy rate of 117 per cent and inadequate healthcare services as documented by Amnesty International India, overcrowded Indian prisons constitute a perfect hot-spot for the spread of coronavirus.

In an effort to contain the spread of the pandemic in the prisons, the Supreme Court asked all state governments and union territories on March 23 to take steps to free the prisons.

The court asked the governments to set up a high-powered committees that would consider granting parole to the convicts.

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