Dec. 25, 2010(CNN) -- A life sentence handed down to a rural pediatrician
in the world's largest democracy had human rights activists screaming a
mockery of justice Saturday.
A court in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh found Dr. Binayak Sen and two
others guilty of sedition and conspiracy Friday for helping India's Maoist
Naxalite movement. They were sentenced to life in jail.
Amnesty International blasted the court's actions as a violation of
international fair trial standards and said Binayak's sentence was likely
to enflame tensions in an area already clouded by conflict.
Amnesty said the charges were politically motivated because Sen reported
the unlawful killings of tribal people by police and a private militia
believed to be sponsored by the government to fight Maoist rebels.
"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
International's Asia-Pacific director.
"State and federal authorities in India should immediately drop these
politically motivated charges against Dr. Sen and release him."
Soli Sorabjee, a former attorney general of India, also criticized the Sen
verdict on CNN's sister network, CNN-IBN.
"It is a shocking judgement," he said. "There has been a complete
misinterpretation of what sedition means. At this rate no human rights
activist will be safe in the country."
Binayak's lawyers intend to appeal the sentence and Sorabjee said they
have a good chance at succeeding in a higher court.
Three decades ago, Sen and his wife, Ilina, went to live and work in
Chhattisgarh, where he was considered a pioneer of public health in one of
India's poorest areas.
He gained international recognition as a human rights defender and won
several accolades including the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and
Human Rights. Twenty-two Nobel laureates from around the world appealed
for his release to the Indian authorities, including the prime minister
Sen was detained in 2007 for colluding with Maoist rebels and has been
behind bars since then.
He denies the charges and said he has never condoned the kind of violence
perpetrated by the guerrillas, called Naxalites after Naxalbari, a village
in neighboring West Bengal state where they originated in the late 1960s.
Since then, the Naxalites have been waging a violent campaign to secure
better living and working conditions for the working class and poor tribal
Over the years, Naxal groups have targeted Indian security forces in
several impoverished eastern Indian states that have become known as the
"Red Corridor." The slow-churning war has killed about 2,000 people,
In the past two days, four political activists were killed in West Bengal,
said state police. Two were abducted and slain by suspected Naxals. Police
arrested two rebels.
The Indian government outlawed the Naxals as terrorists and considers the
movement the greatest internal security threat to the nation.
Sen was convicted of being a conduit between Naxals. The government said
he had met Naxalite leader Narayan Sanyal in jail, CNN-IBN said.
Sanyal and Piyush Guha, a businessman from Kolkata, were also sentenced to
life in prison.
Sen has acknowledged that the Naxals have voiced legitimate concerns of
ordinary Indians but told told India's Tehelka magazine that they are an
"invalid and unsustainable movement."
The magazine described Sen's case this way:
"The story of Binayak Sen is the story of the dangerously thin ice India's
democratic rights skim on. The story of every dangerous schism in India
today: State versus people. Urban versus rural. Unbridled development
versus human need. Blind law versus natural justice.
"It is the story of an India unraveling at the seams," Tehelka said. "The
story of unjust things that happen -- unreported -- to thousands of
innocent people, the story of unjust things waiting to happen to you and
me, if we ever step off the rails of shining India to investigate what's
happening in the rest of the country. Most of all, it is the story of what
can be done to ordinary individuals when the State dons the garb of being
Sen's wife said she was disappointed and saddened by Indian justice.
"I can say with certainty that the evidence does not warrant this verdict
and this conviction," Ilina Sen told CNN-IBN.
"One of the charges against Dr. Sen is conspiracy but I believe that
conspiracy was really to frame him," she said. "I am sure if this case
goes to any court that looks into the law, looks into the evidence and
looks into the legal position, I am sure that the conviction will not
CNN's Harmeet Shah Singh contributed to this report.