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86 cases: South Kashmir jail a COVID hotspot; inmates being shifted, says DIG; families demand clarity

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Srinagar: The district jail in south Kashmir’s Anantnag has turned into a COVID-19 hotspot with at least 86 inmates testing positive for the virus in the last five days.

The authorities have now begun shifting the infected inmates out to another undisclosed location.

 

Official sources told The Kashmir Monitor that of the 239 samples taken from the jail, including that of the inmates and jail staff, 89 have tested positive so far.

“86 of them are inmates, the rest three include a contractor, a labourer, and a jail employee,” sources added.

The congested jail, with a capacity of just 60 inmates as per the website of J&K Prisons Department, has over 200 persons lodged in it. 

Shocked and concerned, the families of many of those detained in the jail told The Kashmir Monitor that they are not being informed about the well-being of their incarcerated kin.

Mohammad Rafiq Ganai, General Secretary of Muslim League, Jammu Kashmir, who was arrested in June last year and lodged in Anantnag jail, too has tested positive.

His wife, Uzma Rafiq told The Kashmir Monitor that she was very concerned about her husband’s wellbeing.

“I came to know that he has tested positive. Officially, no one is telling us anything, which in turn makes me more anxious about him. I appeal authorities to give him and other inmates all the necessary medical care,” she said.

Ganai, 54, was arrested on June 15, 2019 and detained under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Zahoor Ahmad Bhat, brother of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat was the first detainee in the jail to test positive for COVID-19 after he had complained of fever and chills last week.

Zahoor was taken to district hospital Anantnag, where he was given medicines and his COVID sample was taken.

However, rather than keeping him isolated, he was placed in the same jail barracks until he was declared positive on July 10, after which he was shifted back to the hospital, where he is being treated in an isolation ward.

After him, 238 more samples of inmates and jail staff had been taken late last week. Results have been arriving in batches since Monday.  

So far 86 inmates have tested positive including prominent religious cleric and vice-president Jamiat-I-Ahle Hadees, Mushtaq Ahmad Bhat Veeri, who was arrested and booked under PSA last year.

Veeri along with at least 20 COVID positive inmates were shifted out to a makeshift location till Wednesday evening, sources said.

“More are being shifted today,” they added.

Among the COVID positive detainees is a youth from Srinagar as well. His brother told The Kashmir Monitor that weeks before he contracted the virus, they approached the concerned police station and tried to visit the jail as well, however, they were denied meeting him.

“He was arrested and slapped with PSA in 2017, which was eventually quashed. Now we were waiting for his court hearing but due to COVID-19, it is getting delayed. We came to know yesterday that he has tested positive. For so many months, we have been appealing authorities to release him on bail but nothing is working for us,” he said.

To mention, the shifting of the infected inmates began after Anantnag’s District Legal Services Authority took serious note of the matter and issued instructions to the district and jail administrations, directing them to immediately isolate the patients and to deploy a full medical team in prison.

DIG Prisons Mohammad Sultan Lone, said the jail authorities, along with the district administration, were in the process of shifting the Covid positive patients to a different location.

He, however, didn’t reveal the location “due to security reasons.”

DC Anantnag, K K Sidha said they have “taken all the necessary precautions”. He denied confirming the location where the prisoners were being shifted due to “security reasons.”