//`Over stay of life convicts causing rights crisis'

`Over stay of life convicts causing rights crisis'

Prisoners’ relatives plan protest near High Court KOCHI: “My husband has been behind bars for 12 years, but most of his co-prisoners guilty of the same crime were released years ago,” Ms. Thankamani of Alappuzha, whose husband Kodiyan has been serving life term in the Somarajan murder case, complained at a meeting of prisoners’ relatives and human rights activists held here on Sunday. “My husband too should have been released long ago as he has now completed 21 years including Government remissions and the years he has saved,” she said. “I raised two children all on my own. By keeping my husband behind bars, the Government is actually punishing me and my two children.” Thankamani and other relatives of life convicts in Kerala’s jails have now organised themselves to press Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to keep his promise of release of life convicts recommended by the State Prisoners’ Review Committee in accordance with Article 161 of the Constitution. The Chief Minister had, according to the organisers of the meeting, promised during last Onam that his Government would take steps to get all those who had completed 14 years (including remission period and other savings) released. Remission process stalled K. Girish Kumar, convenor of the Anti-Death Penalty Committee, which sponsored today’s meeting, said that hundreds of life convicts were being forced to overstay even after completing 14 years or more. This was because the process of remission of life term had been stalled for nearly five years because of a petition in the High Court that challenged remission of life convicts’ terms by the former LDF Government by `abusing’ Article 161. Moreover, he said, the Governor had not okayed the release of several life convicts recommended by the Prison Review Committee. He noted that only five life convicts were released on remission in the last four years. In the past this number used to be over 100 a year. This had created a major human rights crisis in Kerala’s jails as more than 500 life convicts were overstaying. In the past, life convicts with certain exceptions had been considered for remission and release. This `healthy democratic practice’ had been stalled, thus leading to overcrowding in jails, especially in Kannur and Poojappura central jails. M.K. Sanu pointed out that most of the prisoners had ended up in jail accidentally and as such they deserved humanitarian consideration. Political activist K. Venu suggested that since the Governor had said no to the recommendations of the State Prison Review Committee and the Cabinet, the State Government should seek other options like passing a resolution in the Assembly so that the Governor would be bound by it. Government action sought “The Oommen Chandy Government should muster its political will for this,” he said. Lawyer K.S. Madhusudanan said that “negative and exaggerated media reports” that generalised isolated incidents in jails had badly affected the prisoners as a whole. K. Rajmohan, Geo Jose and representatives of the prisoners’ relatives spoke. The committee has decided to stage a satyagraha outside the High Court on June 31 to highlight the woes of life convicts. Human rights activists and social workers, along with Anti-Death Penalty Council members, will take part in the sataygraha, K. Rajmohan, convenor of the satyagraha committee, said. http://www.hindu.com/2006/01/23/stories/2006012319210300.htm