Two members of the peasants rights organisation Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), currently lodged in the Guwahati Central Jail, tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday night, sparking off fears of spread of the infection in the prison.
Bittu Sonowal and Dhairjya Konwar have tested positive in a rapid antigen test, while KMSS chief Akhil Gogoi — lodged with them — tested negative. A further confirmatory test of Gogoi is expected by Thursday night, a senior police officer told The Indian Express.
Sonowal and Konwar are currently in the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, a senior member of the KMSS said. The duo testing positive has led to worries of more prisoners being infected.
Gogoi, Sonowal and Konwar were all booked by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) on charges of sedition and under provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly being the overground workers of the banned CPI (Maoist), soon after the anti-CAA protests broke out in Assam in December last year. Gogoi had said that he has never had anything to do with the maoists.
The lawyer representing Gogoi told The Indian Express that his client is suffering from cough, fever, and body aches over the last few days, which led to his associates suspecting he is infected with COVID-19.
Dasarath Das, Inspector General of Prisons, Assam, told The Indian Express that over the last three days, a medical team has screened all 1,089 inmates in the jail, out of which 110 samples had Covid-like symptoms.
There has been a widespread demand of Gogoi’s release from prison. In June, inmates of the Guwahati Central Jail went on a hunger strike and one of their key demands was the release of Gogoi.
Debabrata Saikia, Leader of the Congress Legislative Party in Assam, on Wednesday wrote to CM Sarbanadna Sonowal that the government should set up an enquiry commission to find out how the COVID-19 virus spread in the prison “when no outsider/family member has been allowed to meet the detainees since a long time on the plea that they may get infected by COVID-19”.
“Further, in view of the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court had directed all the state Governments to release prisoners so that they can go back home. Most of the prisoners were consequently released, but in spite of such a directive political prisoners like Shri Akhil Gogoi are still being kept in prison,” he added.