People’s Poet Varavara Rao has been shifted to the Saint George Hospital today after he tested positive for Coronavirus. The 80 year old poet has been jailed along with 10 others activists in a false case post the attacks at Bhima Koregaon in 2018.

Varavara was taken from Taloja jail to Mumbai’s JJ Hospital on 13th July 2020 after he was taken ill. He had been reporting to be ill since the month of May but the lower court has continued to reject the bail no matter what.

Civil society groups have been constantly urging the government to release prisoners in view of prison becoming Covid hotspots but the govt has been slow to act. Prisoners, especially those in their 50s or older should have been released much before coronavirus began to spread in prison. But such precautionary measures were not taken! Activists like Shoma Sen, Anand Teltumbde, Varavara Rao have been appealing to the government and the courts to release them in view of their old age and high level of risks but the appeals have been rejected in name of them being imprisoned under the draconian UAPA.

While Varavara Rao was ill in the prison some prisoners had been taking care of him and it’s our fear that they may also be infected with Coronavirus. It is essential for the state to acknowledge that the activists must be released at the earliest and provisions for release of prisoners need to be taken seriously and acted upon immediately. Imprisonment does not give right to State and its institution to threaten the right to life of any prisoner. We demand from the Maharashtra Government and the Central Government the following :

1) Owing to his prolonged non treatment, serious symptoms and advanced age, it is prudent he be immediately shifted to a super speciality private hospital of his family’s choice with ICU facility and be provided quality medical care and treatment with daily updates to the family of the progress of the treatment.

2) Immediate medical attention must be given to priosners who may have come in contact with Varavara Rao.

3) Immediate release of Varavara Rao and other prisoners, specially those arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case on false and trumped up charges, using draconian laws like UAPA, Sedition

4) Immediate update must be provided to family members of Varavara Rao, and other prisoners (including those arrested in Bhima Koregaon case) on the status of their health inside prison.

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