Updated: July 4, 2021 8:03:46 am
Nearly a month after two Myanmar nationals, arrested along with 27 others from that country for entering the country allegedly without proper documents, died of Covid-19 while in judicial custody in Manipur, Human Rights Alert (HRA), an Imphal-based rights group, has petitioned Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and sought a directive to the state government for initiating a magisterial inquiry into the alleged “custodial death”.
The deceased women — Ma Myint, 46, and Mukhai, 40 — were among 29 Myanmar nationals in judicial custody in Churachandpur district.
They tested positive on June 5, and, their state being critical, were admitted to the district hospital. Ma Myint died on June 6, and Mukhai on June 8, according to Babloo Loitongbam, executive director HRA.
In a letter to MHRC, Loitongbam has now alleged that two women died due to deprivation of nutritious food and proper medical attention. He wrote that HRA had conducted an inquiry into the “custodial death” after receiving a complaint from civic bodies.
He sought the MHRC’s intervention and direct the state government to hold an inquiry by a judicial magistrate, besides ensuring the inmate are provided with adequate nutritious food and regular medical attention as the standard norms of any prison or designated prison, “without any discrimination”.
ADGP (Prison), Manipur, P Doungel, however, said that the inmates were well looked after. “If the HRA had visited the place, they would have a better Idea,” Doungel added.
Dr V Tonsing, CMO, Churachandpur district hospital, also said there was no negligence on the part of the Health Department. “As soon as we received a report about the inmates’ health we acted swiftly and evacuated all the sick to hospital. Unfortunately, two of them died, as their condition was already in a critical stage when we received the report,” Tonding said.
The 29 Myanmar nationals, including six minors, were arrested by the district police on March 31 from Ngathal and Kawnpui villages and were booked under Foreigners Act and kept at Saadbhavana Mandop in New Lamka, Loitongbam said.
The same day, a district court remanded them to police custody until April 7, observing that they had “crossed over the border due to threat and fear of persecution as a result of the military coup”. The court later remanded them to judicial custody and turned Saadbhavana Mandop into a temporary prison.
In custody, the inmates were not provided food by the state and depended solely on the charity of civil voluntary organisations, Loitongbam wrote to MHRC.
He also mentioned that the state government announced plans to transfer the inmates to different jails in Imphal, which “scared them”, as they thought this would separate the families. “The prospect of living amongst population where they cannot speak the same language and do not understand the culture disturbed them a great deal. So they requested the authority to allow them to continue to stay together at the centre (Mandop),” Loitongbam wrote.
While the state conceded to their request, it allegedly did not provide them with food or healthcare, he mentioned.
In his letter to the rights panel, Loitongbam stated that nine inmates at the Mandop tested Covid-positive on June 5, of whom Ma Myint and Mukhai were critical and were moved to hospital, where they succumbed.
Thirteen more inmates subsequently tested positive for the infection and were moved to a designated Covid care centre at Churachandpur Government College for treatment on June 7. After testing negative, they returned to the Mandop on June 16, he mentioned.
Loitongbam termed the incident a violation of the Right to Life, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution, available to “all persons”, including “non-citizens”.
The HRA sought interim compensation of at least Rs 20 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased. It is one of the petitioners in 1,526 cases of alleged fake encounters in Manipur pending before the Supreme Court.
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