The Allahabad High Court’s order releasing Dr Kafeel Khan, a doctor at Gorakhpur BRD Medical College and Hospital, who was under detention under the National Security Act (NSA), has struck a blow for civil liberties and is an affirmation of justice. The UP government had ordered his detention and he was in jail for nearly seven months. The NSA was slapped on him for delivering a speech which was critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed Register of Citizens (NRC) at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in December last year. He has been hounded and persecuted by the UP government ever since the death of a number of children in the Gorakhpur medical college in 2017. Khan was a paediatrician at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College and Hospital in Gorakhpur, when 63 children died in 2017 due to lack of oxygen. He was suspended from his post and jailed for nine months after a criminal case of medical negligence, corruption and dereliction of duty was filed against him. But an Uttar Pradesh government inquiry last year cleared him of all charges and instead lauded his actions to save lives during the crisis. There is reason to conclude that Dr Khan was persecuted because Yogi Adityanath had a personal grudge against him. The doctor had pointed out the institutional failure that led to the death of children in the hospital in Gorakhpur, Adityanath’s constituency for long, year after year. He also opposed the CAA.
Ordering his immediate release, the High Court said that the detention was based on a “selective reading and selective mention of few phrases from the speech, ignoring its true intent”. It also said that the allegedly “provocative speech” was actually “a call for national integrity and unity” and did not show “any effort to promote hatred or violence”. It shows that his detention was wrong and in violation of the due processes of law. He was granted bail, but the UP government then invoked the NSA to ensure he wouldn’t be given bail, betraying the vengeful attitude against him. The court has corrected an act of injustice and put an end to the harassment of a citizen on political grounds, at least for now. There are others who have been arrested, detained and put in jail for opposing the CAA or for criticising the government on other issues. Draconian laws like the NSA have been invoked against many to silence dissent and criticism of public authorities. Dr Khan has become a symbol as a victim of highhandedness, intolerance and vindictiveness. The Allahabad High Court has done well to assert the first principles of democratic freedoms by setting him free and chastising those who persecuted him.