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Court in India Urged to Release Writer Vernon Gonsalves, as His Health Worsens

Advocates Call for Better Medical Care for Gonsalves, who Suffers from Dengue, and Others Held in Prison

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(NEW YORK)—Ahead of a bail hearing on Sept. 15, PEN America is calling for the immediate release from prison of Indian writer Vernon Gonsalves, due to his worsening health. Gonsalves is suffering from dengue as a result of his detention at Taloja Central Jail. PEN America urged authorities to release other writers and activists held in prison and to improve medical care for all prisoners. 

“The continued detention of Vernon Gonsalves puts his life at imminent risk and stems from arbitrary accusations which have yet to be proven, while he has languished for years awaiting trial,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director for the Free Expression at Risk program. “We are concerned that the legal charges in the Elgar Parishad case are politically motivated. Holding these writers in jail for years has stifled their right to free expression and other basic rights, and has severely compromised their health and well-being. We urge prison authorities to improve the quality of medical care to those held in jail and order Gonsalves’s release on bail before it is too late.”

Vernon Gonsalves is a writer, professor, and human rights activist who has written about India’s justice system and about Dalit and Adivasi rights. On August 28, 2018, authorities raided his home in a wave of arrests that targeted writers and activists in relation to the ongoing Elgar Parishad case. The case concerns a deadly inter-caste altercation in the village of Bhima Koregaon in 2018. In the aftermath, state and national authorities detained and pursued legal charges against a broad swathe of leftist writers and intellectuals, accusing them of inciting the violence and of links to banned groups. 

On September 10, the family members of writers and activists jailed as part of the Elgar Parishad case called publicly for the prison authorities to ensure prompt treatment for “political prisoners.” The health of many detained in the case are worsening after years in jail in pre-trial detention; only two people in the case have been granted bail and the late activist Stan Swamy died while in state custody. Writers Hany Babu, Gautam Navlakha, and Arun Ferreira have also been denied bail on medical and legal grounds despite multiple requests. Following his death in July 2021, the United Nations Working Group ruled that Swamy’s detention was arbitrary on the basis of his right to freedom of expression, opinion, and association. Gonsalves’s hearing on his petition for medical bail will take place on September 15. 

In India, the majority of writers jailed for their free expression are connected to the Elgar Parishad case. A number of these writers—most notably octogenarian poet P. Varavara Rao—have not been given adequate health care, have been restricted from sending and receiving letters, and prevented from accessing reading materials while in jail. P. Varavara Rao and Sudha Bharadwaj have been released from jail conditionally. PEN America’s most recent Freedom to Write Index found India is the only nominally democratic country included in the count of the top 10 jailers of writers and public intellectuals worldwide, with eight individuals held behind bars during 2021. Apart from cases of imprisonment or detention, dozens of writers have endured online harassment, physical threats, lawsuits, or other forms of intimidation for their views.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Suzanne Trimel, communications and media consultant at STrimel@PEN.org