Imphal: NGO Human Rights Alert (HRA) has urged the Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) to probe the alleged custodial death of two Myanmarese nationals during their stay at a temporary prison in Manipur’s Churachandpur district.

The two deceased, both women, identified as 46-year-old Ma Myint and 40-year-old Mukhai, died of COVID-19 due to the lack of proper medical care, said HRA in a letter to the chairperson of MHRC on Friday.

The two victims were among the 29 Myanmarese nationals, including six minors, who were arrested for entering India without proper documents and kept in judicial custody at Sadbhavna Mandap in New Lamka, Churachandpur district since March 31, 2021.

Till April 7, the refugees were kept at police custody after the local court recorded that they crossed the border due to threat and fear of persecution as a result of the military coup and that their lives have been in danger. As such, they escaped and crossed the border without any valid documents and papers, said HRA executive director Babloo Loitongbam.

However, after the Manipur government declared the centre as a temporary prison under Prison Act, 1984, they were later remanded to judicial custody, he stated.

The government planned to transfer the 29 Myanmarese nationals to different jails in Imphal. But they were scared as they though it will separate the families if they were kept in separate jails for men, women and children and they requested the authority to let them stay together.

The authority conceded to their request but did not provide them with any food or healthcare but the local civil society organisations volunteered to help, said Loitongbam.

By the end of May and the beginning of June, many inmates at the centre fell sick. They requested for medical help, but to no avail, alleged Loitongbam.

On June 5, nine of the them were found to be COVID-19 positive when some medical personnel came and checked their health condition. Two of them were in critical condition and were immediately shifted to the COVID-19 isolation ward at the district hospital, stated the rights body.

Unfortunately, two Myanmarese women succumbed to the COVID-19 infection, it said.

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The systematic deprivation of the right to food and right to health in state custody during the pandemic, ultimately causing the death of two of them, is nothing short of custodial violence, Loitongbam pointed out. It is in violation of the Right to Life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India available to ‘all persons, including the non-citizens’, he added.

HRA requested the MHRC to direct the government to provide nutritious food and regular medical attention to the inmates of the centre-turned-prison without any discrimination as per the standard norms of any prison and recommend monetary compensation of Rs 20 lakh each to the next kin of the two deceased women.

The rights group also sought adherence to the National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) guidelines on custodial death in dealing with the death of the two Myanmarese women, including mandatory reporting to the NHRC secretary and a magisterial inquiry into the incident by a judicial magistrate.

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