India: Widespread words & actions speak against the sheer injustice accorded Dr. Binayak Sen Print E-mail

 

 London ~ Wednesday December 29 2010, page 26

Binayak Sen: India's war on a man of peace

A life term for Binayak Sen under a law used by the British against Gandhi has shocked my country

By Kalpana Sharma

More than 150 years ago, the British introduced a law in India designed to check rebellious natives. In 2010 this law has been used by an independent India to check activists who question government policy.

Section 124A of the Indian penal code was introduced in 1870 by the British to deal with sedition. It was later used to convict Mahatma Gandhi. In his statement during the hearing on 23 March 1922, Gandhi said, "The section under which Mr Banker [a colleague in non-violence] and I are charged is one under which mere promotion of disaffection is a crime. I have studied some of the cases tried under it, and I know that some of the most loved of India's patriots have been convicted under it. I consider it a privilege, therefore, to be charged under that section … I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected toward a government which in its totality has done more harm to India than any previous system."

The man convicted under this section in 2010 is, like Gandhi, a man of peace. Dr Binayak Sen, celebrated human rights activist and medical doctor, has worked for more than three decades as a doctor in the tribal-dominated areas of the state of Chhattisgarh in central India, working for people denied many of the basic services that the state should provide, such as health and education.

As a civil rights activist, Sen has been an outspoken critic of the state government and its repressive actions against the armed rebellion launched by the banned Communist party of India (Maoist). The state has introduced special laws to suppress support for the Maoists, raising a militia to fight them. Independent observers concur with Sen on the extent of human rights violations, but in May 2007 he was arrested on charges of working with a banned organisation, based on visiting a well-known Maoist ideologue, Narayan Sanyal, in jail.

Denied bail for two years, Sen was finally allowed out on bail last year. On December 24, a case that on all counts was weak and based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence, concluded. Sen was found guilty of sedition and other charges, and sentenced to life imprisonment. The judgment has provoked widespread condemnation from Indian civil society.

Why this case has shocked people's sensibilities has as much to do with the man himself as the state in which he has chosen to work. Sen worked among the poorest and most deprived people in India, the Adivasis. The Maoists have also established their base in the tribal belt stretching through the heart of India. Their concerns are similar; their strategies diametrically opposite.

But for the Chhattisgarh government, the Maoists are evil and deserve no sympathy or understanding. Because they use violence, the response of the state must be equally violent.

Sen and many others who question India's development policy, which has exacerbated the gap between the poorest and the rich, argue that groups like the Maoists succeed because the state fails to serve the needs of the poor. In an atmosphere where everything is reduced to "You are either for us, or against us", there is no place for people like Sen who are fighting for social justice without violence. Arundhati Roy, who has dared to speak publicly about freedom for Kashmir and has spent time with the Maoists to present their worldview, also narrowly escaped sedition charges earlier this year.

The judgment against Sen also reveals the extent to which paranoia and political bias in a state can affect the justice system. In Chhattisgarh today you would need to be a brave individual to question the state. Even judges in lower courts will not. Sen's supporters are determined to file an appeal and take it to the highest court. But whatever the outcome, the very fact of such a ruling has shocked many. India's judiciary has not remained untouched by the scandals currently being unearthed of corruption in very high places. Yet, by and large, faith in the excruciatingly slow judicial system remains fairly high. Today people ask: if even high-profile people like Sen can be denied justice, what hope is there for some unknown citizen being picked and charged of being a Maoist sympathiser or a terrorist?

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 Dublin ~ Friday, December 31, 2010

Barefoot doctor knew he would be 'made an example of'

MARY FITZGERALD profiles Binayak Sen, an Indian activist who has been given a life sentence for sedition

LAST FRIDAY the man some in India call the barefoot doctor stood in the dock of a courtroom in the remote state of Chhattisgarh to hear that he had been handed a life sentence for sedition.

Prosecutors accused Binayak Sen, a paediatrician and human rights activist who had devoted his life to providing healthcare to the rural poor, of aiding Maoist rebels. Sen, who denies all charges, was convicted on two counts of sedition and conspiracy. He was found not guilty of a third charge of waging war against the state, a crime punishable by death.

The judgment, which Sen’s supporters say was based on planted evidence and concocted testimonies, and sentence have caused uproar in India. Some of the country’s most eminent figures have expressed outrage. “To turn the dedicated service of someone who drops everything to serve the cause of neglected people into a story of the seditious use of something . . . the whole thing seems a ridiculous use of the laws of democratic India,” said economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.

“[Sen] has explicitly condemned Maoist violence, and even said of the armed revolutionaries that theirs is an invalid and unsustainable movement,” noted historian Ramachandra Guha. “His conviction will . . . be challenged.”

Soli Sorabjee, a former attorney general, described the sentence as “shocking” and said the evidence against Sen appeared flimsy.

The case has further inflamed an already bitter debate over what fuels the Maoist insurgency sweeping some of the most impoverished pockets of central and eastern India, and how it should be tackled. Many in India point out that the Maoists gained momentum during the same decade that witnessed India’s economy growing to unprecedented, and very lopsided, levels.

I met Binayak Sen while reporting on the Maoists’ rise in Chhattisgarh in September.

The rebels, often called Naxalites after the village where their predecessors staged an uprising in 1967, now have a presence throughout 20 of India’s 28 states. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly declared the Maoists the country’s greatest internal security threat.

The conflict claimed the lives of almost 900 people this year, many of whom were civilians.

Of all the states that form India’s so-called Red Corridor, Chhattisgarh has borne the brunt of the fighting. To counter Maoist influence there, a state-sponsored militia known as Salwa Judum emerged in 2005. What resulted was a spiral of revenge attacks, dividing villages and communities. In his capacity as vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties rights group, Sen helped document atrocities carried out by the Salwa Judum. This did not endear him to local authorities.

Sen was also an outspoken critic of development strategies in Chhattisgarh, home to massive untapped resources including one-fifth of India’s iron ore, and India more generally.

When I met him at his modest book-lined apartment, Sen spoke passionately about the plight of tribals displaced to make way for mining and industrialisation. He also railed against what he sees as India’s creeping retreat from democratic ideals and the poverty and hunger that stalks his country. He knew he was not alone in his views.

“The world should understand that there is a very wide spectrum of opposition [in India] to what has been happening,” Sen said. “But the government wants to simplify the picture.”

Sen, who had been released on bail after two years in detention, weighed his words carefully. “We must have a process by which the people’s voices can be heard in the processes of development,” he told me. “We can never be at peace if such large sections of the population are being ground underfoot.”

The general mood in Chhattisgarh was very tense when I visited. Many spoke of a climate of fear, suspicion and paranoia, in which anyone who questioned the current development narrative ran the risk of being branded a Maoist sympathiser. My movements were tracked by security forces. Authorities asked why I was so keen to meet Sen. An earlier international campaign for his release, supported by more than 20 Nobel laureates, had rankled with officials.

During his detention Sen received the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for his efforts to reduce infant mortality rates and deaths from diarrhoea. This week another global response began to take shape. A statement signed by Noam Chomsky and dozens of Indian academics condemned a sentence “whose savagery is unbelievable”. Amnesty International said the judgment was politically motivated.

In his last statement, Sen talked of persecution. “I am being made an example of . . . as a warning to others not to expose the patent trampling of human rights taking place in the state.”

Many in India would agree.

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Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 52, Dated January 01, 2011
CURRENT AFFAIRS   

Nation outraged by Binayak Sen verdict

BY Anil Mishra and Kunal Majumder

Dr. Binayak Sen

"I do not see the logic in this verdict," human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen told Tehelka after the Raipur sessions court sentenced him for life, creating ripples of outrage and shock across the country. Sen, who has been a pediatrician in Chhattisgarh for 30 years, was sentenced to life imprisonment by Additional District and Sessions Judge BP Verma on December 24 for criminal conspiracy (IPC 120B) and sedition (IPC 124). Just over a year ago, a sustained international human rights campaign had ensured Sen's release on bail. The Chhattisgarh Police had arrested him in May 2007 under the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) but failed to come up with any substantial evidence against him. For two years, he was put behind bars without a proper trial. Finally on May 25 2009, the Supreme Court granted him bail after observing that all the evidence against him was circumstantial. And now the judgment sentencing Sen for life imprisonment is based on the same circumstantial evidence.

Justice Verma arrived on this decision based on Chhattisgarh Police's argument that Sen met alleged Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal in jail for 33 times between May 26 and June 30, 2007, carrying seditious letters and passing them to Piyush Guha. However they fail to answer how Sanyal could pass the letters to Sen when their meetings took place in the jailer's room right under the jailer's nose. Each time they met, they spoke in Hindi so that each and every word could be heard and understood by the supervising officer. “In such a situation, there is no room for conspiracy or passing letters,” Sen’s lawyers argue. They allege that the letters were planted by the police. Another key ‘evidence’ is article no. 37 of the case – a letter, which the police claims, was written by Maoists to Sen thanking him for his support. The police claim that this letter was recovered from Sen’s house. However, they fail to answer why this key piece of ‘evidence’ was not countersigned by Sen, like all the other evidence.

Former chief justice of Delhi High Court Rajindar Sachar calls the judgment outrageous, “It is scandalous to say that he was working against the interest of the country. Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) under which he has been convicted is unconstitutional.” In the past we have seen a number of civil liberty activists being arrested under the dreaded UAPA in various parts of the country. Sedition has become the new tool for attacking those who do not speak the voice of the government. Sen had time and again opposed the Chhattisgarh government’s decision to sponsor the vigilante operation Salwa Judum. “His conviction is one more example of the state succeeding in securing the conviction of an innocent person on the basis of false evidence,” says Kavita Srivastava, National Secretary, PUCL. Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bushan says the verdict might undermine the people’s faith in lower judiciary. “Convicting Sen shows that a section of the judiciary are willing to act as an instrument of a state’s policy to silence dissent,” says Bhushan.

Sen's wife Elina now plans to approach the High Court. "Over the last three years the police have created a dust cloud of conspiracy around us. I don’t think that the evidence presented warrants this kind of judgment. I hope the high court will negate this judgement,” she says.
Related Stories

The Doctor, The State, And A Sinister Case:

The untenable imprisonment and victimisation of Dr Binayak Sen, a heroic humanitarian from Chhattisgarh, exposes Indian democracy as increasingly hollow, says SHOMA CHAUDHURY. Photographs by SHAILENDRA PANDEY

List Of Charges And Evidence Against Dr Binayak Sen:

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 Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Chomsky, Romila Thapar condemn Binayak's conviction

Special Correspondent

New Delhi: Public outrage at the sentencing of physician and rights activist Binayak Sen continued on Tuesday, with philosopher Noam Chomsky, historian Romila Thapar and 80 others, including leading academics, writers and journalists, signing a joint statement condemning the “unbelievable savagery” of the sentence.

Urging his immediate release as well as the early hearing of his appeal “with enlightened reason” by the higher judiciary, the statement said: “The damage done by this shocking verdict to our Constitutional order must be undone.”

The statement expressed shock that Dr. Sen should have been held guilty of sedition and sentenced to life. It said:

“Dr. Sen never resorted to violence against any other person, never incited anyone else to resort to violence, never entered into any conspiracy against the constitutional order of the country, and never entered into regular service of any organisation that was involved in any such conspiracy, for furthering its cause. On the contrary, as a doctor he served the people with devotion and helped to save many lives; as a human rights activist he stood up in defence of the rights of the downtrodden. And yet he has been handed down this sentence whose savagery is unbelievable.

“Such an action on the part of the State in the name of preserving the constitutional order will only serve to undermine that constitutional order itself. It will inevitably raise the thought in the minds of many that an order within which the activities of a person like Dr. Sen can be held to be ‘seditious' is not worth defending.

“Such an impression must be avoided. The damage done by this shocking verdict to our constitutional order must be undone. The higher judiciary of the country must hear his appeal expeditiously, must grant him immediate bail till the end of the appeal process, and must judge his case with enlightened reason.”

Signatories
The other signatories of the statement include writer Gita Hariharan; member of the National Advisory Council Harsh Mander; Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh, C.P. Chandrasekhar, Kamal Chenoy, Anuradha Chenoy, Nivedita Menon, Tanika Sarkar and Neeladri Bhattacharya (all from the Jawaharlal Nehru University); Nandini Sundar, Chitra Joshi, Achin Vanaik, Alok Rai and Partho Datta (all from the Delhi University); Malini Bhattacharya and Mihir Bhattacharya, from the Jadavpur University; lawyer Prashant Bhushan; director of National Archives of India Mushirul Hasan; the former Finance Minister of West Bengal, Ashok Mitra; Muchkund Dubey, former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador; educationists Sasi Kumar and Vinod Raina; and Tata Institute of Social Sciences T. Jayaraman.

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 Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Protest against Binayak Sen's sentence

Staff Reporter

Expressing solidarity: Activists of various social organisations staging a rally in New Delhi on Monday to condemn the trial and conviction of human rights activist Binayak Sen (V. Sudershan)

NEW DELHI: Activists, intellectuals, students and academicians gathered at Jantar Mantar here on Monday in protest against the life imprisonment sentence pronounced by a Chhattisgarh court for human rights activist Binayak Sen.

‘Unjust conviction'
The protest was organised by the All-India Students' Association, People's Union for Civil Liberties and All-India Progressive Women's Association and several other groups and individuals as part of a nation-wide protest against the “unjust conviction” of Dr. Sen.

A large number of people, holding placards and raising slogans, attended the demonstration.

Addressing the gathering, writer-activist Arundhati Roy said that there was lack of evidence against Dr. Sen and though higher courts could be approached, “the process is the punishment”.

Among the speakers were historian Prof. Harbans Mukhia, activist Swami Agnivesh, AISA general secretary Ravi Rai, activist Harsh Mandar, poet and Jan Sanskriti Manch Delhi president Manglesh Dabral, representatives of PUCL, National Forest Workers' Forum and Narmada Bachao Andolan and many others.

Swami Agnivesh exrpressed solidarity with Dr. Sen while activist Gautam Navlakha said that the court ruling was “a miscarriage of justice”.

“India is turning into a ‘banana republic' for the likes of Binayak Sen who expose and challenge corporate loot and State repression, while the governments protect the ‘right' of big companies to loot in privacy,” said AIPWA national secretary Kavita Krishnan.

The issue of authorities in central India being given a “free hand” in the name of curbing Naxalism was also raised.
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 Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Forum seeks unconditional release

Staff Reporter

CIVIL SOCIETY'S CONCERN:Film personality Aparna Sen and social activist Medha Patkar lead a rally along with members and supporters of the “Forum of Artists, Cultural Activists and Intellectuals” in Kolkata on Monday, protesting the life imprisonment verdict given to Binayak Sen (Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury)

KOLKATA: Calling it a “fraudulent and politically-motivated judgment,” the Forum of Artists, Cultural Activists and Intellectuals condemned here on Monday the life imprisonment given to activist Binayak Sen by a court in Chhattisgarh and demanded his “unconditional release.”

Dr. Sen, Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal and city-based businessman Pijush Guha were sentenced to life on December 24 by a Raipur sessions court, which found them guilty of criminal conspiracy to commit sedition under Section 124(a) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Social activist Medha Patkar said that such verdicts were an attempt by the state to suppress the non-violent people's movement in the country.

“I condemn what is a political statement rather than a legal judgment. It clearly expresses contempt for the Constitution, fundamental rights and freedom of expression. A highly-acclaimed physician, Dr. Sen has been victimised as he protested against the Salwa Judum and grabbing of land and mineral resources from the tribal people by corporate giants,” Ms. Patkar said at the press conference held under the banner of the Forum.

She demanded a review of the IPC and repeal of “draconian laws” such as the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

A letter from Dr. Sen's octogenarian mother, Anasuya Sen, was read out at the conference in which she said that her son had always followed Gandhian principles and liked to live among the downtrodden. She added that while she was proud of her son, the judgment had been painful to her and she was hopeful of his acquittal.

Trinamool Congress MP and singer Kabir Suman said the verdict was a “death sentence for democracy itself.”

Film personality Aparna Sen called it a “travesty of justice” as she alleged that while a person like Dr. Sen was convicted, several corrupt politicians were roaming free, even after squandering lakhs of crores of public money.

“Voicing our protest is the only thing we can do now against the judgment or else we have to call ourselves an autocratic nation,” Ms. Sen added.

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 Sunday December 26 2010

It's a travesty of truth and justice, says CPI

Special Correspondent

­ People protesting against the conviction of rights activist Binayak Sen at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Saturday (V.V.Krishnan)

NEW DELHI: The Communist Party of India (CPI) on Saturday termed the conviction of human rights activist Binayak Sen by a Raipur court a “travesty of justice” and pointed out that genuine activists and even its party workers were being targeted by the Chhattisgarh police.

“All genuine activists like Dr. Sen and even CPI cadres are being targeted by the security forces in the State and false cases are being foisted on them. It is travesty of truth and justice,” CPI national secretary and Member of Parliament D. Raja said.

All democratic forces should rally behind Dr. Sen and challenge the order of the Additional District and Sessions Judge. If activists such as Dr. Sen, a well-known doctor working among tribals, have to face such a situation then the direction in which the society was going on needed to be questioned, he said.

“Atrocious”

“What is going on in Chhattisgarh is atrocious. If such activists, who are giving dedicated service to the tribals and other people in neglected regions of the country, have to face such a situation, then where are we heading?

Mr. Raja said that during a meeting with Home Minister P. Chidambaram a few months ago, the latter had promised to look into how the prosecution had gone against Dr. Sen. Mr. Chidambaram also described the Salwa Judum as “a non-State actor.”

The New Trade Union Initiative has criticised the conviction of Dr. Sen and others and urged the Centre to file an appeal in defence of the rights of its citizens.

In a statement issued here, it said over the past month the prosecution had been receiving wide publicity for “false and preposterous claims.” It said an email from Dr. Sen's wife, Ilina Sen, to the Delhi-based Indian Social Institute (ISI), was submitted as a proof of his contact with the Pakistan's ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence). “This clearly shows the total lack of police investigation, and in fact, the disregard for all norms of good legal practices exhibited by the Chhattisgarh,” the statement said.
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 Sunday December 25 2010

Health rights coalition condemns Sen's conviction

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a coalition of organisations promoting health rights, has expressed “outrage” at the life imprisonment awarded by a Raipur court to civil rights activist Binayak Sen for sedition and treason.

In a statement issued here on Friday, the Abhiyan said Dr. Sen enjoyed an illustrious record of 25 years of selfless service in health and human rights. He was an active member and former convenor of the Medico Friend Circle, a national organisation of health professionals, which worked for an alternative health system to meet the needs of the poor.

“Great injustice”
The judgment, the Abhiyan said, was an unacceptable attempt to intimidate and vilify those who advocated the rights of the poor and highlighted the indiscriminate use of state machinery to stifle democratic dissent. The Abhiyan believed that great injustice was done, not only to Dr. Sen but also to the democratic fabric of this country.

Dr. Sen, who is the general secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh, and national vice-president of the organisation, is closely associated with the Abhiyan, the Indian chapter of the People's Health Movement.

The Abhiyan pointed out that the Christian Medical College in Vellore conferred on him the Paul Harrison Award in 2004, the highest award given to an alumnus for distinguished service in rural areas. He still inspired successive generations of students and faculty. Many of his articles, based on his work, were appreciated internationally. “His indictment under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, is utterly condemnable.”
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 Monday December 27, 2010

COLONIAL APPROACH TO NAXALISM

Fear of the unknown

By M J Akbar

'It is ironic that the Binayak judgement appeared on the front pages of the Christmas day newspapers.'

India has become a strange democracy where Binayak Sen gets life in jail and dacoits get a life in luxury. It takes years of pressure for government to move against those looting the nation’s treasury; and when the majestic forces of enforcement do go on a ‘raid’ they give their quarry enough time to remove every trace of evidence. You have to be exceptionally stupid to store evidence of your own culpability in a telecom scandal where deals were made and money paid three years before. Or, for that matter, even six months ago, as in some instances of the highly lubricated Commonwealth Games. By this time the money has either been spent, converted into assets, or sent to a convenient haven abroad. The political-industrial nexus is above the law, because it controls enforcement. But if the ruling class of India could have hanged Binayak Sen instead of merely trying to send him to jail for the rest of his life, it would have done so.

Binayak made a fundamental, mortal mistake. He was on the side of the poor. That is a non-negotiable error in our oligarchic democracy. Christmas must be truly merry in the homes of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram and, of course, Raman Singh this year. The Congress and the BJP dislike each other with a passion that only a thirst for power can generate; they disagree on just about anything and everything. But there is perfect harmony between them over the naxalite policy. End the naxalite problem by elimination of the messenger; and the poor will not have the courage to ask for more than the trickle allotted to them by a gluttonous government.

The media is an obedient doorman of this nexus, protecting its interests with a zeal that should surprise even the benefactors. The arrest of Binayak was converted into instant accusatory headlines. His trial was ignored by the press, which is why we do not know that there was virtually no substantive evidence. Suffice it to say that two of Binayak’s jailors, during his detention without bail, were declared hostile by the prosecution. Prosecuting lawyers are in the pay of government, as are the jailors. And yet two policemen refused to back the prosecution. A fabricated unsigned letter, apparently cooked up on a computer printout, seems to have been sufficient to convince the honourable guardians of our judicial system that Binayak Sen deserved a sentence reserved for only the most hardened murderer.

Distorted application
It is another matter that Binayak Sen, who was senior to me in school, was and remains the gentlest of people, distinguished only by a fierce commitment to his cause of choice. I do not agree with his political views or inclinations; nor does the political system. But it is only in a dictatorship that disagreement is sufficient reason for incarceration. India seems to be developing a two-tier democracy: generosity of the law for the privileged and vindictive, distorted application on the underprivileged.

It is ironic that the Binayak judgement appeared on the front pages of the Christmas day newspapers. We all know that Jesus was not born on December 25; it was only in the fourth century that Pope Liberius declared this date to be a birthday because mystery and miracle has been associated with the winter solstice from time beyond memory. Christmas has become an international festival because it represents the most important values that give life some meaning and hold the complex social web together: peace, and goodwill towards all men, without which there cannot be peace.

This goodwill is not sectarian; it is easy to have goodwill towards some men, friends or benefactors. Christmas is the festival of the Other. It is the embrace of the dissident, or even the enemy. The most famous display of the Christmas spirit was the pause on the frontline in the First World War, when a few British and German soldiers announced an impromptu truce, played football, shared a drink and became human for a day before their superiors ordered them to return to the savagery of a terrible war that wrecked Europe.

If Binayak Sen is guilty of sedition on the basis of fictitious evidence, then, as was famously said during the great Gandhian movement against the British between 1919 and 1922, there are not enough jails in India to hold those equally guilty. The reference is not accidental. Governments have begun to opt for a colonial approach towards naxalism and its myriad manifestations. The reason? Fear, perhaps terror. The corrupt can recognise their nemesis.
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 Monday December 27, 2010

Justice outraged

'The evidence produced against Sen is unconvincing.'

The conviction of celebrated human rights activist Binayak Sen for treason by the Raipur sessions court on Friday has raised question about the country’s system of justice. Sen, along with two others, has been awarded a harsh life sentence for allegedly aiding and abetting Maoist activities. But the evidence produced against Sen is very unconvincing and there are strong reasons to believe that it was manufactured or doctored to implicate him in a false case. He has been hounded and persecuted by the police and the authorities in Chhattisgarh for long and has suffered much for his commitment to the welfare of poor tribals in the state. He was even denied the normal right of bail after he was arrested in 2006 and it was after spending nearly two years in jail that he won freedom at the intervention of the supreme court.

The prosecution charge that Sen acted as a conduit between a jailed Maoist leader and a businessman is weak because all the meetings between the two in jail were under the supervision of the authorities. The defence claim that evidence was planted to incriminate Sen seems to be correct in the light of production of letters and documents which were not recovered from his residence. The ridiculousness of the prosecution claim became clear in the court during the trial when it accused Sen of links with the Pakistani ISI on the basis of an e-mail message to an organisation with that acronym. It turned out the organisation was the Indian Social Institute (ISI) in Delhi.

There is no doubt that Sen did not get a fair trial and his conviction has tarnished the reputation of the country. He has become an international symbol of the struggle of the poor and marginalised people for their legitimate rights. The Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience. A man who has been honoured with international awards for his work among the poor, and on whose behalf Nobel laureates have pleaded with the government, should not be treated the way he has been. The Chhattisgarh police and the trial judge who accepted its story uncritically have sent out a dire warning to all those who value and work for human rights. It is the disregard for the rights of the poor that has triggered the Maoist revolt. It is unfortunate that this truth is not recognised.
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 Tuesday 28 December 2010

In Perspective:

Justice for Binayak Sen

By Ambrose Pinto S J

As a concerned doctor, his is a life at the service of the poor and the downtrodden.

There never has been such an uproar over the justice system as against the verdict of Binayak Sen in recent years in the country. Not only civil society groups, eminent intellectuals, members of the judiciary and international organisations have expressed disgust at the verdict to imprison Binayak Sen to life by the Raipur sessions court on sedition and waging war against the Indian state.

Those who have covered the story of Dr Sen have reacted with utmost horror at the sheer injustice of the judgment. Such low quality of justice, routinely delivered in our courts, is indeed a threat to Indian democracy. It is a pity that the judicial system has not been able to uphold principles of law and justice.

Flawed judgments like the one delivered on Dr Sen are likely to further undermine the credibility and reputation of the judiciary. From university campuses to newspaper offices to middle class homes and power corridors across India, this is a judgment which is seen to be clearly destroying the last edifice of the public perception of the Indian justice system.

Service
Dr Sen is a professor at the prestigious Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore. As a concerned doctor, his is a life at the service of the poor and the downtrodden. Since he worked among the Maoist infected regions of Chhattisgarh which is a home for the impoverished tribals, he has been accused of de-stabilising the Indian state in nexus with the Maoists.

When he was imprisoned from May 2007 to May 2009, at least 22 Noble prize winners from all over the world had sought his immediate freedom lauding his exemplary work in providing the best of treatment to the impoverished adivasis. Distinguished artists, academics, filmmakers and writers had campaigned and petitioned for his freedom. Students from across India and the world had organised protests, campaigns and concerts demanding freedom for the compassionate doctor. He was released on bail by the supreme court as a result of a massive civil society campaigns.

The session court has once again given him a sentence of life imprisonment. The verdict is perceived as unjust to be handed out to one of India’s finest social activists. The charges against Dr Sen, of allegedly aiding outlawed Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh, have not been corroborated by any of the witnesses or evidence produced in the court.

The prosecution had failed miserably to show any evidence linking the highly respected paediatrician and human rights activist to a Maoist conspiracy. Friends who know Dr Sen and his work hold that the charges are trumped up and intended to punish him for his outspoken criticism of the Chhattisgarh government run by he BJP for its human rights violations against its own tribal population. The Chhattisgarh government has also persecuted other human rights activists for their role in exposing the real character of the Salwa Judum and other human rights violations.

The prosecution is mala fide, no doubt. In fact it is a persecution. He has been made a scapegoat by the state government of Chhattisgarh as a warning to others not to expose the patent trampling of human rights taking place in the state. Documents have been fabricated by the police and false witnesses introduced in order to falsely implicate. His conviction is one more example of the state succeeding in securing the conviction of an innocent person on the basis of false evidence.

While campaigns for his release have already begun across the nation and outside, this time, it should be an occasion for the nation to demand drastic reform of the criminal justice system to ensure that it is not manipulated by the state to persecute, prosecute and victimise innocent persons. There needs to be some action on all those who pass judgments without sufficient evidence so that the good and the honest are not made to frequent prisons and jails.

One thing is to ask for the release of Dr Sen. At the level of appeal that is bound to take place. Shouldn’t there be a thorough inquiry against all those who have framed him so maliciously and given him the verdict without right and proper evidence?

There is also a need to compensate Dr Sen for being deprived of his basic freedoms and to his family for being subjected to the most inhumane mental torture and persecution. As citizens it is wrong to allow the justice system to be attacked by vested interest forces to further their designs.

(The writer is the principal of St Joseph’s College, Bangalore)
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 Dublin ~ Tuesday December 28 2010

Hundreds protest against life sentence for human rights activist

RAHUL BEDI in New Delhi

HUNDREDS OF human rights activists demonstrated in India’s capital, New Delhi, yesterday protesting against the harsh life sentence handed down to a highly regarded paediatrician and human rights activist on charges of aiding Maoist rebels.

For decades Binayak Sen (60) worked among tribal communities in India’s central Chhattisgarh province to rally depressed, impoverished and neglected locals to fight for their rights.

He was convicted of waging war against the state by a local court in the state capital Raipur on Christmas Eve.

Sen, who was running health clinics in Chhattisgarh and training tribal communities whose plight Maoist rebels claim to champion, faces the prospect of 14 years in jail.

His case, severely criticised by Amnesty International, indigenous and global human rights groups and Nobel laureates, lasted 3½ years in the course of which the doctor spent 22 months in prison before being granted bail by the Supreme Court last year.

While still in jail, he was awarded the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for health and human rights in 2008 in recognition of his services to the poor and disadvantaged by the US-based Global Health Council.

At the time 22 Nobel laureates had written to the Indian government criticising his imprisonment and requesting that he be freed in order to collect the council’s award in person. Their appeal was ignored.

“We wish to express grave concern that Dr Sen appears to be incarcerated solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental human rights,” the letter declared adding that the internal security laws used to charge him did not “comport with international human rights standards”.

Amnesty International concurred when it declared at the weekend that Sen’s life sentence violated international fair trial standards and was likely to inflame tensions in the conflict-affected area.

“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,” Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific head Sam Zarifi said.

Sen wept when the verdict was announced by the provincial sessions court last Friday after which his lawyer said that he would appeal as the basis for the conviction was “flimsy”.

“There is no suggestion of warlike activity anywhere in the judgment copy,” he complained after the sentence was pronounced.

Sen’s outraged wife Ilina, who was in court with their two daughters, categorised the verdict to be “totally irrational”.

The Maoists’ “Red Corridor”, controlled by about 20,000 armed cadres, is spread across a third of India covering 220 of about 620 administrative districts in over half of the country’s 29 provinces.

This year alone, some 1,000 people have died in Maoist-related violence in what prime minister Manmohan Singh has labelled India’s most serious internal security problem since independence in 1947.
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  Saturday December 25 2010

Binayak Sen did not get fair trial, says Amnesty

London, Dec 25 , (IANS): Amnesty International said Saturday that the life sentence handed down to Indian rights activist Binayak Sen for his alleged Maoist links violates ''international fair trial standards''.

It is also "likely to enflame tensions in the conflict-affected area" of Chhattisgarh, Amnesty said in a statement.

"Life in prison is an unusually harsh sentence for anyone, much less for an internationally recognized human rights defender who has never been charged with any act of violence," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific director.

"State and federal authorities in India should immediately drop these politically motivated charges against Sen and release him," it said.

Sen, who is also a medical doctor, was convicted Friday of sedition and conspiracy under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act, 2005, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004.

He was immediately taken into custody, having been out on bail since May 2009.

"Sen, 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," Zarifi said.

"Instead of persecuting Sen, authorities in Chhattisgarh should be acting to protect the people of the region from the abuses committed by the Maoists as well as state security forces and militias.

"This sentence will seriously intimidate other human rights defenders who would provide a peaceful outlet for the people's grievances, especially for the indigenous Adivasi population," Zarifi said.

Sen is a pioneer of health care to marginalized and indigenous communities in Chhattisgarh, where the police and armed Maoists have been engaged in clashes over the last seven years.

Sen was detained without proper charges for seven months, denied bail and kept in solitary confinement for three weeks.

Amnesty said that many of the charges against him stem from laws that contravene international standards. "Repeated delays in the conduct of his trial have cast doubts about its fairness."

Amnesty has repeatedly called on Indian authorities to immediately drop all the charges against Sen.
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 Sunday December 25 2010

Editorial:

A shocking verdict

The life sentence handed down to Binayak Sen by a Chhattisgarh trial court on Friday is so over the top and outrageous that it calls into question the fundamentals of the Indian justice system. The trial judge shocked the conscience of the nation by finding the eminent doctor and rights activist guilty of sedition and conspiring to wage war against the state under Sections 120(B) and 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 8(1), (2), (3), and (5) of the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, and Section 39 (2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (as amended in 2004). The fact that the Chhattisgarh police's case against Dr. Sen consisted of pretty thin material was taken into the realm of the absurd by the public prosecutor tying himself in knots in an attempt to burnish the doctor's alleged sins. So it was that an innocuous email message sent by his wife, Ilina, to the director of the Indian Social Institute ­ a Delhi-based institution which happens to share an acronym with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate ­ got converted into “suspicious communication” with the dreaded “ISI.” Another email referring to an occupant of the White House as a “chimpanzee” was introduced by the prosecutor as evidence of the kind of “code language” terrorists resort to. But tragically, it is the Chhattisgarh police that have had the last laugh in this round.

The broad charge against Dr. Sen of helping the banned Community Party of India (Maoist) wage war against the state was constructed by the police around the scaffolding of his supposed relationship with Narayan Sanyal, an alleged leader of the Maoists who was incarcerated in Raipur jail following his arrest in 2006. In his capacity as a medical doctor and head of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, Dr. Sen often met Mr. Sanyal in jail but each of these meetings, as the jail authorities subsequently testified, was closely supervised and afforded no opportunity for the conveying of messages to the Maoist leadership. So the police hit upon the strategy of linking him to the recovery from Kolkata-based businessman Piyush Guha of a letter allegedly written by Mr. Sanyal. During the trial, the defence counsel pointed to numerous holes in the police case, including the introduction of an unsigned, typewritten letter supposedly sent by the Maoists to Dr. Sen, despite the fact that the letter found no mention in the attested list of documents recovered from his residence the same day. It goes without saying that Dr. Sen has the right to appeal the conviction and the savage sentence. The higher judiciary, which did not exactly cover itself in glory by denying him bail for nearly two years, must ensure the expeditious hearing of his appeal and grant him immediate bail till the end of the appeal process.
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 Sunday December 26 2010

Rights groups slam conviction of Binayak Sen, seek justice

Staff Reporter

“It shows victimisation of those who are critical of State role”
Human rights groups together plan to take the case to higher courts

“Lower judiciary may be under pressure to go by whatever evidences are put in front of it”

NEW DELHI: A day after the Raipur Additional District and Sessions Court pronounced Dr. Binayak Sen guilty of sedition and conspiracy, human rights activists and his supporters staged a protest in the Capital.

A small but determined group of people gathered at the Jantar Mantar on Saturday to condemn the sentencing of Dr. Sen and the “threat” to activism in the country. Various human rights organisations, including the Human Rights Law Network, the People's Union for Civil Liberties, teachers from Jamia Millia Islamia and Delhi University pressed for justice for Dr. Sen.

“It is an atrocious judgement. It shows the State's role in how keen it is to victimise people who are critical of the way it operates. Chattisgarh is a State with the lowest social indicators but high in repression,” said Praful Bidwai, social science researcher and human rights activist.

Critical of the Government's role, he said it seems the State is keen on abolishing all distinctions between Maoists, those sympathetic to them, those who are pro-Left, Gandhians, social workers and media: “In punishing Dr. Sen they were sending others a message.”

While Mr. Bidwai said there was little hope that the High Court judgment will be favourable, considering it took the Supreme Court's intervention to grant him bail when he was earlier in detention, former IPS official K.S. Subramanian was more hopeful.

“This is a lower judiciary decision and we still have the option of approaching the higher courts,” he said.

He was, however, critical of the both the police and the lower judiciary for their role in crushing human rights activism. “It is a shame that while scamsters go scot free, people like Dr. Sen, who are sympathetic to the tribal people, are being punished. The State's machinery is being misused and how did the judge come to the conclusions about Dr. Sen?” he questioned.

Hinting at possible “pressure on the lower judiciary”, Mr. Subramanian said: “IPS officials do not ensure that the lower ranks do not misuse power. Politicians are not aware of democracy and the rights of people. They (politicians) do not find it difficult to misuse the police. It is quite possible that the lower judiciary acts under pressure and instead of questioning the reasoning of the police, just go by whatever evidence is produced.”

Urging all human rights activists to come together and carry out a sustained struggle to free Dr. Sen, Amit Sengupta, a journalist said: “We have been talking to Illina Sen, his wife, and it is a big morale booster for the family that civil society members are gathering in support of Dr. Sen.”

“Wake up call”

Manisha Sethi of the JMI Teachers' Association said: “This is a wake up call to the activists and citizens, but we must send a message to the political parties and the State that this is unacceptable.”

A number of medical practitioners have also sent a petition to President Pratibha Patil seeking justice for Dr. Sen.

The petition says: “Not only should Dr. Sen be released immediately from imprisonment and charges withdrawn, there needs to be a thorough inquiry against all those who have framed him so maliciously. We also demand compensation to Dr. Sen for being deprived of his basic freedoms and his family for being subjected to the most inhumane torture and persecution.”

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 Sunday December 25 2010

Life term for Binayak Sen

Aman Sethi

Court finds him guilty of criminal conspiracy to commit sedition

Human rights activist Binayak Sen being brought in a police van before the Raipur court announced the sentence on Friday (Rupesh Yadav)­

Raipur: A few minutes past one o' clock in the afternoon at the Raipur Sessions Court in Chhattisgarh, the wall of rifle-wielding policemen parted as Dr. Binayak Sen, Pijush Guha and Narayan Sanyal were ushered out of Justice B.P. Verma's courtroom and bundled into a waiting police van.

“The judge simply said guilty,” cried Pranhita Sen as she watched the van carrying her father, a celebrated human rights activist and physician, recede into the distance. By late afternoon, Justice Verma emerged from his chamber to pronounce the three men guilty of criminal conspiracy to commit sedition, under Section 124(a) read with 20 (b) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

In his order (written in Hindi) Justice Verma said that while Mr. Sanyal was a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha aided and supported the CPI (Maoist), including ferrying three letters purportedly written by Mr. Sanyal.

Justice Verma justified the harsh sentence on the ground that “the way that terrorists and Maoist organisations are killing State and Central paramilitary forces and innocent Adivasis and spreading fear, terror and disorder across the country and community implies that this court cannot be generous to the accused and give them the minimum sentence under law.”

Dr. Sen, Mr. Guha and Mr. Sanyal were also convicted under Section 39(2) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, and Sections 8 (1), (2), (3) and (5) of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 which charged them with supporting, aiding and abetting in the activities of a criminal organisation, in this instance the CPI (Maoist), which carry sentences of up to 5 years.

Mr. Sanyal was also found guilty of belonging to a banned organisation under Section 20 of the UAPA, which carries a sentence of 10 years. The sentences shall run concurrently.

The accused were not convicted under Section 121 (a) of the IPC, which relates to waging war against the Government of India.

In May 2007, Dr. Sen was accused of acting as a courier between the alleged Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha, and imprisoned for two years before getting bail on the directions of the Supreme Court.

The prosecution alleged that Mr. Guha was arrested on May 6, 2007 and found to be in possession of Maoist publications and three letters purportedly written in jail by Sanyal, and delivered to him by Dr. Sen. As per prison records, Dr. Sen frequently visited the incarcerated Sanyal in his capacity as president of the Chhattisgarh unit of the People's Union for Civil Liberties. The four-year trial has been dogged by allegations that the police fabricated vital evidence and schooled key witnesses.

“This sentence reveals the true face of the Indian state. [In Chhattisgarh] they would jail Mahatma Gandhi if they could,” Mr. Guha said.

“This judgment makes me feel really sorry for the state of my country,” said Ilina Sen, wife of Dr. Sen. “I hope the Indian judicial system has the strength to negate this judgment.”

Senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan said: “The Supreme Court has held that the charge of sedition can be upheld only if the prosecution proves that the accused attempted to incite violence or public disorder. It is clear that this case doesn't meet that standard.”

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 London ~ Monday 27 December 2010, page 24

Indian government criticised for human rights activist's life sentence

Officials urged to review verdict given to Dr Binayak Sen, praised by Nobel laureates and convicted for helping Maoist guerrillas

Jason Burke in Delhi

Intellectuals hold placards during a protest against the conviction of paediatrician Dr Binayak Sen, 60, in New Delhi. (Mustafa Quraishi/AP)

Indian courts were under pressure yesterday to review a life sentence given to Dr Binayak Sen, an internationally acclaimed activist and pioneering rural paediatrician convicted on Christmas Eve of helping Maoist guerrillas.

Sen, whose work among the poor of the central state of Chhattisgarh has been praised around the world and won him the support of dozens of Nobel laureates, appeared on charges of sedition and conspiracy.

Sen, 58, was alleged to have been passing messages for leftwing guerrillas, Naxalites, and has been held without bail for more than two years. Activists in the US and in India demonstrated against the verdict and Amnesty International has strongly criticised the decision.

"Life in prison is an unusually harsh sentence for anyone, much less for an internationally recognised human rights defender who has never been charged with any act of violence," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific director. "State and federal authorities in India should immediately drop these politically motivated charges against Dr Sen and release him."

Newspapers unanimously condemned the decision. "The life sentence handed down to Binayak Sen by a Chhattisgarh trial court on Friday is so over the top and outrageous that it calls into question the fundamentals of the Indian justice system," read an editorial in The Hindu.

Indian authorities are struggling to contain a growing and entrenched insurgency by Naxalites, who have a presence in about a third of the country. Repeated offensives by often under-armed and poorly trained police or paramilitary forces have foundered.

Last week, Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, said that leftwing ideologies posed a serious economic threat. "If we don't control Naxalism we have to say goodbye to our country's ambitions to sustain growth rate of 10-11% per cent per annum – that is the only way that we can get rid of chronic poverty, ignorance and disease that still afflicts millions and millions of our citizens," Singh told an audience of police graduates.

Supporters of Sen called the trial a farce, pointing out that prosecutors had attempted to link the doctor with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency by citing an email that also contained the line, "There is a chimpanzee in the White House". Prosecutors said that was "code language" for "terrorists are annoyed with the US". In fact, "ISI" referred to the Indian Social Institute, a leftwing think tank in Delhi.

The Calcutta Telegraph described the trial as an "absurd drama". Soli Sorabjee, a former attorney general of India, told CNN-IBN news channel that the judgment was shocking. "At this rate no human rights activist will be safe in the country," he said.

Sen, who counts Noam Chomsky among his supporters, had been living and working in remote areas of the state for more than 30 years, bringing healthcare to some of the poorest parts of India.

Chhattisgarh is rich in minerals and metals needed for India's booming economy, but local people rarely benefit from their extraction; conflicts over land are common. While the Maoists' leaders are often educated and from urban backgrounds, the footsoldiers are drawn from poverty-stricken rural communities, which have yet to benefit from India's rapid growth.

Violence linked to the insurgency continued to claim lives yesterday when one paramilitary policemen was killed and two others injured in an ambush by Naxalites in Chhattisgarh.
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 Sunday December 25 2010

Lawyers, activists shocked by Binayak Sen verdict

Aman Sethi

In an almost identical case, the accused was given a total of 11 years in jail

A couple of years for Union Carbide bosses and a life sentence for Sen: Arundhati Roy
Scandalous, says Justice Rajinder Sachar

­ An emotional scene in Raipur as relatives meet human rights activist Binayak Sen on Friday (AFP)

RAIPUR: As a crush of lawyers, reporters and policemen awaited the sentencing of Dr. Binayak Sen, Pijush Guha, and Narayan Sanyal on the ground floor of the Raipur Sessions Court, an almost identical case was under way in another courtroom on the first floor of the same building.

Asit Kumar Sen Gupta stood before Justice O.P. Gupta, awaiting his sentence for criminal conspiracy to commit sedition and wage war against the Government of India. He had been arrested in January 2008 and, like Dr. Sen, charged with hatching a conspiracy to aid the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) in its goal of overthrowing the Indian State.

Like Dr. Sen, Mr. Sen Gupta was also found guilty under section 124 (a) to commit sedition. Mr. Sen Gupta avoided the charge of criminal conspiracy, but was sentenced to three years for sedition and another eight years under Section 39 (2) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act; Dr. Sen and his co-accused were sentenced to life imprisonment for a conspiracy to commit sedition on the basis of three letters purportedly written by Mr. Sanyal and handed over to Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha.

Dr. Sen is a celebrated physician and human rights activist who highlighted police and Maoist atrocities in the running battle between Indian security forces and the guerrilla army of the CPI (Maoist). His conviction, and the severity of his sentence, has shocked social activists and senior advocates.

Dr. Sen's trial has been dogged by allegations that the Chhattisgarh police planted vital evidence, schooled witnesses and manufactured testimonies. A number of key witnesses also turned hostile in court.

“Convicting Dr. Sen shows that sections of the judiciary are willing to act as instruments of a State's policy to silence dissent,” said senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, “This will undermine the people's faith in the lower sections of the judiciary.”

“A couple of years for the bosses of Union Carbide and a life sentence for Binayak Sen,” said celebrated writer and activist Arundhati Roy, referring to the sentence handed down to those accused in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984.

“After producing Marx's Das Kapital and a letter from the Indian Social Institute as evidence against him, the crisis of Indian democracy does not get more dangerous than this,” Ms. Roy said, referring to the quality of the evidence marshalled by the police in their case against Dr. Sen.

“Where is the crime? Where is the deterrence?” asked counter-terrorism expert Dr. Ajai Sahni when asked if the verdict would serve any purpose in the government's battle against the CPI (Maoist). “This is a perversion of the investigative process and an index of the incompetence of the Chhattisgarh police,” he said.

“It is scandalous to say that he [Dr. Sen] was working against the interest of the country,” said Justice Rajinder Sachar, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court and member of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

“The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act., under which he has been convicted, is unconstitutional. PUCL will challenge his conviction and the Act.”

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Saturday 25 December 2010

Binayak Sen gets life in prison, India Inc. gets Rs 1.76 lakh crore; what are we left with?


A Congress spokesman said yesterday that to dismiss the Sen verdict outright would mean India is a 'banana republic'...were his remarks more candid than he intended?

The life sentence given to Dr. Binayak Sen for criminal conspiracy to commit sedition is almost too much to believe, even for those of us who have become jaded by a central government that talks endlessly about the common man, but seems to listen, above all, to the oligarchs who are robbing the country--sometimes, legally, sometimes illegally--of almost unimaginable amounts of money. I find myself speechless. Fortunately, the editors over at The Hindu were not speechless. Here's what the opening sentence of the editorial they ran on Christmas day:

The life sentence handed down to Binayak Sen by a Chhattisgarh trial court on Friday is so over the top and outrageous that it calls into question the fundamentals of the Indian justice system.

Those are extraordinarily strong words, but this was an extraordinary verdict. Just as extraordinary, was the way Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi explained his party's neutrality in the matter. Here's how The Hindu reported his remarks:

Mr. Singhvi pointed out that dismissing the verdict outright would mean that India was a “banana republic.” He urged everyone to take pride in the fact that the country had an “independent judiciary.”

Well, perhaps Mr. Singhvi is on to something. Perhaps it really is better for us to pretend this verdict is about justice, if only because the alternative is just too terrifying.

By the way, what Mr. Singhvi really wanted to talk about--the BJP's connection to the Radia case--was reported in another article on the same page. As was the fact that the CBI investigations of the 2G scam and CWG corruption are continuing. That's wonderful. When someone steals Rs. 1.76 lakh core from the public coffers in a country where 1250 people die from diarrhea-related illness each day due to lack of clean water, then words like corruption and scam seem somehow inadequate. Rs. 1.76 lakh core is a huge amount of money; invested properly, it would save lives--lakhs of them.

But does anyone expect anyone connected to the 2G spectrum mess to get a life sentence in prison? I'd be surprised if Niira Radia or A. Raja get more than a slap on the wrist. And the guys they are working for--Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, India Inc.--well, they'll just go on making fistfuls of money.

I've read a lot about the Binayak Sen case, and I'm not going to rehash it all here. You can start with this article from Hard News. Then google if you want more. I'm convinced the good doctor is innocent. Forget the life sentence deserves our thanks and respect for dedicating his life to the struggle for human rights.

If you want to do something more than read, you can start by signing this letter to the President HERE

You can also join the Free Dr. Binayak Sen Campaign and spread the word.
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 Sunday December 26 2010

Unscreened footage throws light on Binayak Sen case

Aman Sethi

Raipur: A pair of burly hands affixes several lengths of masking tape to an open brown bag. Then the same hands are shown to belong to an officer of the Chhattisgarh police; one hand holds the bag open as the other riffles through the bag's contents. “This is what we have taken,” says a voice in Hindi.

When the police leave the house of Binayak Sen, an award-winning physician and human rights activist, and walk the down the stairs, one can still see the same brown bag, unsealed and swinging from the right hand of a policeman.

This footage was shot with the permission of a District Magistrate when Dr. Sen's house was searched by the police on May 19, 2005. On Christmas eve this year, Dr. Sen, Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha and alleged Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal were convicted of supporting the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the criminal conspiracy to commit sedition.

They were sentenced to life imprisonment by Justice B.P. Verma of the Raipur Sessions Court.

The police claim that Mr. Guha was arrested on May 6, 2007, and found to be in possession of banned literature and three handwritten letters. The case revolves around these letters, written in jail by Mr. Sanyal and passed on to Mr. Guha via Dr. Sen.

Dr. Sen had visited Mr. Sanyal in jail in his capacity as president of the Chhattisgarh chapter of the People's Union for Civil Liberties.

However, the prosecution was unable to explain how the letters were passed on. Jailers from the Raipur jail testified that the two men were never left alone and that no letters could have been exchanged.

Hence, the prosecution's entire case rested on documents seized from Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha. Documents that the defence says were planted on the two men.

In court, defence lawyer Surinder Singh said the police claimed that all evidence was sealed and deposited in a safe house while the video clearly shows otherwise. He noted that the police claim that all documents were signed by Dr. Sen, investigating officer B.B. Rajpoot and two independent witnesses.

Further, an unsigned letter, labelled Article 37 (A-37) ­ allegedly seized from Dr. Sen's house ­ and purportedly written by a CPI (Maoist) member, did not carry either Dr. Sen's, or Mr. Rajpoot's signatures but was mysteriously signed by both witnesses.

Mr. Singh said: “Our copies [of the seized documents] only bear the signatures of Dr. Sen and Mr. Rajpoot, and have not been signed by the witnesses. Yet, documents submitted in court have all four signatures. This suggests that witnesses did not sign the documents at the time they were seized, but at a later stage after the documents were supposedly sealed.”

Justice Verma did not allow the video to be screened in his courtroom, and nor is it mentioned in his exhaustive 91-page judgment written in Hindi. Also unremarked upon is defence lawyer S.K. Farhan's point that none of the letters supposedly seized from Mr. Guha's possession carry his signature. Also, Mr. Guha's arrest memo carries no mention of the seized documents.

On the matter of A-37, Justice Verma supports the police version of events.

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