A news flashes a couple of days ago:
60-year-old Indian rights activist jailed for life
By ASHOK SHARMA
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 25, 2010; 2:51 AM
NEW DELHI — An Indian court has convicted a human rights activist of aiding communist rebels in eastern India and sentenced him to life in prison, his attorney said Saturday.
Dr. Binayak Sen, a 60-year-old physician and outspoken government critic, has worked in tribal villages and repeatedly tried to rally people to fight for their rights, often invoking the ire of authorities.
On Friday, Judge B.P. Verma found Sen and two others guilty of sedition and sentenced them to life, according to attorney Amit Banerjee. However, he acquitted the three of the charge of waging war against the state, which is punishable by death, Banerjee said.
THIS IS WHAT AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL SAYS:
AN INTRODUCTION OF THE MAN AND HIS STRUGGLE:
Dr Binayak Sen is a 60 year old Paediatrician and public health specialist since the past 35 years, in the eastern Indian state of CHATTISGARH. He is also a health and a human rights activist. He is the national Vice President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and General Secretary of its Chhattisgarh unit.
Dr Sen along with his wife Dr Ilina Sen has played huge contributions in establishing a General Hospital in the poor and tribal dominant state of Chattisgarh—a hospital which is owned and run by the worker’s organisation and a community based NGO.
Dr Sen is an outspoken government critic, has worked in tribal villages and repeatedly tried to rally people to fight for their rights, and inequalities in the economic and health fronts , often invoking the ire of the authorities.
He is a practicing physicain and an activist who has been suspected by the govt to be supporting the Naxalites in the state.
The govt cliams that he had met the jailed leadet Narayan Sanyal 33 times and found certain documents alleging his links to the banned organisation. For these charges he was detained in May 2007 but after repeated refusals for the bail from the lower courts he was finally granted a bail in May 2005 by the Supreme Court.
In a 2008 interview, Sen stated that he doesn’t condone the Naxalites, doesn’t approve of their violent methods, and has spoken strongly against them several times. But, he also expressed his opposition to the violent activities carried out by Salwa Judum, which he believes, have created a split in the tribal community.Sen advocates peaceful methods such as negotiations to solve the Naxalite problem.
In May and June, 2007, the supporters of Binayak Sen organized a series of rallies in several cities including Raipur, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai London, Boston and New York, to protest against his arrest.
Various delegations of physicians and human rights activists meet chief secretary and law secretary to appeal for Sen’s release.
The government and the people who were against the bail to Binayak Sen claimed that the protestors were not well versed with the workings of Binayak Sen or the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency.
Amnesty International too had seen the arrest of Dr Sen in 2007 as a harrassment of a human right activist, declared his detention as a ‘breach of international law’. It called for the immediate release of the doctor then.
In June 2007 even the British House of Commons published a motion titled “Arrest of Dr Binayak Sen” supported by many MPs across the party lines.
In June 2007, the British Medical Journal published an article about Sen’s arrest .The journal wrote:
“Dr Sen is a champion of peace and fair play and an internationally respected medical doctor who has devoted his whole life to peaceful service of the poorest people. He should be released immediately.”
In the article Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, of Amnesty International, comments to BMJ : “These offences allow sweeping interpretations of criminal intent. Activists in India are arrested all the time on such charges, which give wide, arbitrary powers to police.”
Sen was kept in solitary confinement during the period from 15 March to 11 April 2008.
In April 2008, Human Rights Watch in New York issued a public statement regarding the trial of Sen due to begin in Raipur on 30 April 2008: “the district court’s limit of one supporter of the defendant at the trial is unnecessarily restrictive and raises broader concerns about the fairness of the trial.”
Various delegations of physicians and human rights activists meet chief secretary and law secretary to appeal for Sen’s release. The people who were against the bail to Binayak Sen claimed that the protestors were not well versed with the workings of Binayak Sen or the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency.
Sen is the recipient in 2004 of the Paul Harrison award for a lifetime of service to the rural poor. This award is given annually by the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India to its alumni.
Sen was selected for the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2008
The Global Health Council issued a public statement:
“Dr. Sen’s accomplishments speak volumes about what can be achieved in very poor areas when health practitioners are also committed community leaders. He staffed a hospital created by and funded by impoverished mine workers, and he has spent his lifetime educating people about health practices and civil liberties—providing information that has saved lives and improved conditions for thousands of people. His good works need to be recognized as a major contribution to India and to global health; they are certainly not a threat to state security.”
The Global Health Council, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School and several other prominent global health organizations issued a joint statement of support for Sen, requesting that Indian authorities allow the doctor to receive the Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights in person in Washington, D.C. on 29 May 2008, at the 35th Annual International Conference on Global Health.
Twenty-two Nobel laureates— ranging from medicine winners to economics honorees – from around the world wrote to India’s President and Prime Minister and Chhattisgarh state authorities. They begged that Sen should be allowed to travel to the US to receive the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights.
Doctors across India held free clinics for the poor in tribute to the example of Sen and to peacefully campaign for his release.
The Government of India led by the Indian National Congress which is the opposition party in the state of Chhattisgarh reacted strongly to international appeals for the release of Dr Binayak Sen. The Government was of the opinion that the issue around Dr Binayak Sen is a well orchestrated campaign and just because he is selected for a western award, doesn’t make him less guilty in their view. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that the State Government was justified in opposing Dr Sen’s appeal.
After a trial of three and a half years and 22 months in jail finally on Friday, December 24, 2010, Judge B.P. Verma found Sen and two others guilty of sedition and sentenced them to LIFE IMPRISONMENT.
However, he acquitted the three of the charge of waging war against the state, which is punishable by death. The two others convicted in the case were Narayan Sanyal, a Maoist, whom Sen used to meet in the prison, and a Calcutta-based trader, Piyush Guha, who prosecutors said carried Sen’s messages to the Maoist rebels.
VARIOUS POST VERDICT REACTIONS:
Amnesty International issued a statement against the conviction.
”Dr. Sen, who is considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, was convicted under laws that are impermissibly vague and fall well short of international standards for criminal prosecution,”
The statement also claimed that Sen’s conviction violated international fair trial standards and would intimidate other human rights activists who provide a peaceful outlet for people’s grievances.
Sam Zarifi, the rights group’s Asia-Pacific director, asks the Indian authorities to ”immediately drop these politically motivated charges against Dr. Sen and release him.”
Nobel laurate economist and thinker Amartya Sen also criticised the recent verdict for Sen’s imprisonment. He stated that instead of getting his due honor for his service, Sen had met with an unfortunate verdict.
Soli Sorabjee, a former attorney general, called the ruling “shocking.”“Binayak Sen has a fine record. The evidence against him seems flimsy. The judge has misapplied the section. And in any case, the sentence is atrocious, savage.”
Historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in the Hindustan Times:”Binayak Sen has never fired a gun. He probably does not know how to hold one. He has explicitly condemned Maoist violence, and even said of the armed revolutionaries that theirs is an invalid and unsustainable movement. His conviction will and should be challenged.”
Kavita Srivastava, national secretary of thePeople’s Union for Civil Liberties, of which Sen is a vice president: ”Anyone in India who dissents or questions the superpower script is ostracized. Sen’s arrest is happening because this government is extremely anti-poor. Our much-praised 9 percent growth is coming at the cost of displacing millions of people with land that is being given away for mining and corporate development.”
Sen’s wife, Dr Ilina Sen said. ”He is a person who has worked for the poor of the country for 30 years. If that person is found guilty of sedition activities when gangsters and scamsters are walking free, well, that’s a disgrace to our democracy.”
A growing number of Indian intellectuals and human rights activists have spoken out on his behalf after the sentence..
Street protests spread across India.
Dr Sen’s attorney Amit Bannerjee has expressed:”I will appeal the verdict in a higher court next week”
But as the long and tedious process of appeal, reappeal, hearings in the courts and the wait for final verdict in a higher court will go on — a qualified, dedicated doctor, a hero of the poor and a champion voice of Human Rights shall have to content with staying behind the bars.
It is indeed yet another tragic news to the credit of the YEAR 2010.
What shall be the next verdict only time will tell…
28 December 2010