The Indian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Binayak Sen, a human rights defender and pioneer of health care to marginalized communities, who has languished in jail for two years, Amnesty International said today. Dr Sen, 59, was arrested on 14 May 2007, when he was charged with facilitating armed Maoist violence and put on trial; this resumes tomorrow, 24 April 2009. If convicted, he could face a life term in jail. Amnesty International believes that the charges and evidence against Dr. Sen are baseless and politically motivated. “Dr. Sen’s prolonged imprisonment is a glaring example of how the Indian authorities misuse security legislation to target activists,” said Madhu Malhotra, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme. “These are open to abuse as they contain vague and sweeping definitions of ‘unlawful activities’. Under no circumstances should work that peacefully defends human rights be termed an ‘unlawful activity’.”.
The security legislation enables the authorities to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals, as well as seek their punishment, on unclear grounds. This is in violation of the principle of certainty in criminal law, reflected in Article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a state party.
Dr Sen was detained without proper charges for seven months, denied bail, and kept in solitary confinement. Many of the charges against him stem from laws that contravene international standards. Repeated delays in the conduct of his trial have also heightened doubts about its fairness.
Amnesty International understands that Dr. Sen’s earlier meetings with jailed Maoist leaders (on which some of the accusations against him are based) were limited to his legitimate professional work as a doctor and a human rights defender and facilitated by the jail authorities.
Prior to his arrest, Dr. Sen had criticized the state authorities for enacting special security legislation – the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act, 2005 (CSPSA). He had also highlighted unlawful killings of adivasis (indigenous people) by the police and by Salwa Judum, a private militia widely held to be sponsored by the state authorities to fight the guerrillas of the CPI (Maoist). The state authorities have so far failed to conduct effective and impartial investigations into these unlawful killings.
Dr Sen’s wife, Dr. Ilina Sen, who regularly visits him at the jail, told Amnesty International that Dr. Sen suffers from recurrent chest pain and needs specialist medical care, but the state government has denied Dr. Sen’s plea for transfer to a hospital outside Raipur.
Amnesty International calls on the Indian authorities to:
– release Dr. Sen immediately and unconditionally;
– ensure Dr. Sen has access to medical treatment of his choice while he remains in custody;
– ensure fair and prompt trials for at least 50 prisoners in Chhattisgarh who face charges under various security legislations;
– take effective measures to respect and protect the rights of human rights defenders, in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. This includes ensuring that they are not arbitrarily detained, hindered or otherwise harassed because of the legitimate exercise of their human rights.