Almost a month after two Myanmar nationals arrested along with 27 others from that country for allegedly entering the country died of Covid-19 while in custody in Manipur, Human Rights Alert (HRA) passed away, Imphal-based human rights group has petitioned the Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) for an instruction to the state government to initiate a judicial investigation into alleged “death in prison”.

The women who died – Ma Myint, 46, and Mukhai, 40 – were among 29 Myanmar nationals held in judicial custody in Churachandpur District.

They tested positive on June 5 and were admitted to the county hospital because their condition was critical. Ma Myint died on June 6th and Mukhai on June 8th, according to Babloo Loitongbam, Executive Director of HRA.

In a letter to the MHRC, Loitongbam has now alleged that two women died from a lack of nutritious food and adequate medical care. He wrote that the HRA was conducting a “death in prison” investigation after receiving a complaint from civil authorities.

He requested the intervention of the MHRC and directed the state government to conduct an investigation by a judge and made sure that the inmate was provided with sufficient nutritious food and regular medical care as standard “non-discriminatory” norms in any prison or designated prison.

However, ADGP (Prison), Manipur, P. Douglas said inmates were well looked after. “If the HRA had visited the place, they would have a better idea,” added Douglas.

Dr. V. Tonsing, CMO of Churachandpur District Hospital, also said the health department was not negligent. “As soon as we received a report on the inmates’ health, we acted quickly and evacuated all the sick to the hospital. Unfortunately, two of them died because their condition was critical when we received the report, ”said Tonding.

The 29 nationals of Myanmar, including six minors, were arrested by district police from Ngathal and Kawnpui villages on March 31 and held under the Aliens Act in Saadbhavana Mandop, New Lamka, Loitongbam said.

On the same day, a district court placed them in police custody until April 7th, stating that they had crossed the border “out of threats and fear of persecution as a result of the military coup.” The court later detained her and turned Saadbhavana Mandop into a temporary prison.

In detention, inmates received no food from the state and relied solely on the charity of civil volunteer organizations, Loitongbam wrote to MHRC.

He also mentioned that the state government announced plans to move inmates to different prisons in Imphal, which they “scared” because they thought it would separate families. “The prospect of living in a population where they don’t speak the same language and don’t understand the culture worried them very much. So they asked the authorities to allow them to continue to stay together in the center (mandop), ”Loitongbam wrote.

The state complied with their request, but allegedly did not provide them with food or medical care, he said.

In his letter to the rights committee, Loitongbam stated that nine inmates of the Mandop tested Covid-positive on June 5, of whom Ma Myint and Mukhai were critical and were taken to the hospital, where they succumbed.

Thirteen other inmates subsequently tested positive for the infection and moved to a designated Covid care center at Churachandpur Government College for treatment on June 7. After testing negative, they returned to Mandop on June 16, he mentioned.

Loitongbam described the incident as a violation of the constitutional right to life enshrined in Article 21, which is available to “all persons” including “non-nationals”.

The HRA demanded interim compensation of at least Rs 20 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased. She is one of the petitioners on 1,526 cases of alleged fake encounters in Manipur pending before the Supreme Court.