A jail is meant to keep prisoners captive, not treat them inhumanly. However, this doesn’t seem to apply at Togo, where Captain Sunil James and his crew members were initially held captive (at the Central Jail) for nearly seven weeks in Julyafter they were taken into custody. Presently, they lie in a separate Naval barrack cell in an isolated location 45 minutes drive from Lome (Togo’s capital), according to Rakesh Madappa, Captain James’ brother-in-law when he had visited Togo in September.
Madappa exclusively spoke to Sunday MiDDAY about the manner in which James got detained along with three other crews. “On July 16 2013, MS Ocean Centurion, the ship that James commanded, was attacked by pirates. James and his crew were held at gunpoint,” said Madappa. After the pirates left the day after James immediately reported the incident to the closest naval base at Togo, added Madappa.
The Togo Navy escorted James’ ship back to anchorage and detained James and his crew under the pretext of investigating their probable involvement. They were then moved to the Central Jail in Togo, which housed 2,200-2,500 hardened criminals. Shockingly, none of them had a shred of clothing on them.
James and his crew were moved into a detention cell approximately 100 square feet in size. This cell was built to house not more than 10 people but the lack of adequate holding facilities resulted in the Togolese authorities pushing more than 70 people into this confinement. This meant no room for the inmates to move around, for starters. The inmates had no room to sleep. Sleep came at a high price for those who could afford it. The local goons that ran the prison from the inside demanded payment in exchange for sleep. Once payment was made, a person could pick a side to lie down for thenight.
James and his crew lived there for seven weeks, trying to stave off homosexual advances from other inmates, said Madappa. Daily rations consisted of four pieces of bone-dry bread and a glass of filthy water. For a man who exercised regularly and was in fighting fit condition before this ordeal, James lost more than 20 kg over seven weeks. He battled a raging fever, stomach flu that caused diarrhoea and vomiting for days on end and an eye infection. He received no medical attention from the Togolese authorities. This is probably how a prisoner of war is held captive, but India, of course, has never been at war with Togo.
Shifted to navy barrack
Early September, a local aide in Togo was able to speak to the public prosecutor and have the crew moved into the navy barracks in early September.
The navy barracks are nothing more than a similar but smaller detention centre miles away from the city. A 40-minute ride from Lome lead to this desolate piece of land surrounded by nothing but high walls and naval guards.
James’ situation has not improved. He is now dealing with a smaller population of criminals than in the earlier prison and has to pay the guards before he is able to urinate. On most days, he is given rotten or stale food to eat and medical attention is absent.
Madappa added that out of the nearly 25 days he spent in Togo, he was allowed entry into James’ cell for 10 minutes, over only 10 days only after obtaining permission from the court.
“James is a seafarer, an explorer and traveller by heart. His son lies in the hospital morgue. Will James return in time for Vivaan’s funeral?” an emotional Madappa demanded to know.
‘Won’t work under pressure’
Advocate Rustio Lawson Banku, who is fighting to release the crew members in Togo wrote in an email: “The file is returned to the judge this morning. I have met him and he has agreed to receive the representative of Indian Embassy in Accra (Ghana’s capital). The judge does not appreciate the intrusion and told me he does not work under pressure. He will take his time to take his decision on Monday.” Madappa, naturally, is far from being mollified. “This means the judge will take his time while a family in India suffers continually and a child awaits his burial. So much for compassion. So much for human rights.”