Akhil Gogoi from Assam is infected with COVID in prison

News Desk: Assam peasant leader and human rights activist Akhil Gogoi, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for his alleged involvement in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests last year and is currently lodged in Guwahati Central Jail, tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday.

According to the media reports, 55 inmates inside the jail, including Akhil Gogoi, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

A top official of the state home department said Akhil Gogoi was tested positive for Covid-19 after he underwent the antigen test on Saturday evening.

“Akhil Gogoi was found positive in the antigen test this evening. He will be shifted to the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) now,” Inspector General (Prisons) Dasarath Das said.

The health officials did three tests on Gogoi — two antigen and one swab test (RT-PCR) — and only the last antigen sample was positive, he said.

Apart from Akhil Gogoi, two of his colleagues and leaders of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) — Bittu Sonowal and Dhairjya Konwar — also tested positive for coronavirus and have been admitted to Guwahati Medical College Hospital, sources said.

In view of detection of as many as 55 coronavirus cases, the Kamrup district administration on Saturday declared the Central Jail in Guwahati as a containment zone.

Meanwhile, widespread protests were held across Assam in the last few days, demanding the release of Gogoi and his associates.

National Award-winning filmmaker Jahnu Barua in a video post on Facebook said that during the pandemic, many prisoners without any serious charges were released from jails across the world, including in Assam and other Indian states.

“In such a scenario, it is not at all acceptable to keep Akhil Gogoi and his associates inside jail till now… So, I appeal to the government to provide proper treatment and release them immediately on humanitarian grounds,” the Padma Bhushan awardee said.

Mumbai-based filmmaker Biswajeet Bora criticised the government for the treatment meted out to Gogoi, who has been “raising voice for the people of Assam” and demanded his release by listing out a series of awards that the KMSS leader had won for his struggle against corruption.

Eminent theatre personality Sitanath Lahkar said: “It has been quite clear to the people of Assam that the ‘Jati-Mati-Bheti’ government has been playing nasty political game to keep Akhil behind bars. I demand the release of Akhil Gogoi. I demand release of Dhaijya, Bittu and Manash.”

Noted cartoonist Nituparna Rajbongshi protested his continued detention through a series of cartoons shared on social media.

Taking part in an online campaign, CPI(M) politburo member Mohammed Salim tweeted: “The peasant leader Akhil Gogoi was falsely implicated under the amended UAPA (Unlawful Assembly Prevention Act) by the NIA following the anti-CAA protests in Assam. #ReleaseAkhilGogoi.”

Earlier, former chief minister and veteran Congress leader Tarun Gogoi said the detention of Akhil Gogoi and others was “undemocratic, unlawful, violation of democratic rights”.

Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia said the legal cell of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) would provide assistance to Gogoi and others during their future bail hearings at the Gauhati High Court.

The All Assam Students’ Union, too, demanded immediate release and better treatment to the KMSS leader.

Gogoi was arrested on December 12 from Jorhat as a “preventive measure” in view of the deteriorating law and order situation in the state during the protests against the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act and his colleagues were taken into custody later.

However, the Assam Police on December 13 filed a case against him and it was handed over to the NIA the very next day with issuance of an order by the Home Ministry on December 14 itself.

The special NIA court granted bail to Gogoi on March 17 and subsequently to others after the investigating agency failed to file a charge sheet against him within the specified period of 90 days. The Gauhati High Court later stayed the bail.

On May 29, the NIA filed the charge sheet against Gogoi and three of his colleagues for sedition and terror activities for their alleged role in violent protests against the citizenship law.

Reading the ‘Communist Manifesto’, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Lenin’s works, Mao Zedong’s life, and calling friends ‘comrade’ and greeting them with ‘Lal Salaam’ are few of the grounds the NIA found to charge Gogoi and his three accomplices with terror activities under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.