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India: Doctor Gets Life Sentence On Sedition Charges

On 24th December, 2010, a Sessions Court in Raipur, Chattisgarh, convicted civil rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen on charges of sedition and conspiracy. The court found Dr. Sen guilty of aiding Maoist rebels in the State and have sentenced him to life imprisonment.

A paediatrician by training, Dr. Sen is the national Vice-President of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He  is a well-known figure among the tribals Chattisgarh. Since 1981 he has been working actively to bring impoverished tribals and rural people under the purview of healthcare. He was arrested on May 14, 2007  on charges of acting as a courier between jailed Naxalite leader Narayan Sanyal and businessman Piyush Guha (also accused of having links with Maoists), and was jailed for 2years before finally getting bail from the Supreme Court in 2009. In the course of these 2years, appeals for his release were made by Amnesty International, Noam Chomsky and several other prominent figures, including 22 Nobel Laureates.

Free Dr. Binayak Sen Campaign.

Image by Flickr user  freebird, used under a CC Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The current conviction has outraged human rights activists worldwide. Netizens too reacted to the news of his sentencing.

Yeh hai Life writes:

The opinions of 22 Nobel Laureates and the International Human Rights community be damned. With this verdict it is clear that dissent in India will not be tolerated. If you don’t play by the rules, you will be silenced. India now has her own Liu Xiaobo.

Chaikadai writes:

We have seriously lost all trust in India’s State, judiciary and media! Please still sign the petition in our hope to fight for the release of Dr. Binayak Sen.

The Twitteratti are however divided in their sympathies. On the one hand, there are people tweeting in support, for example,

@diptosh: When I visited Binayak Sen's home, I found less Marxist literature than in my personal possession. Police said those books were evidence.

@saiphul: Take a stand against Dr. Binayak Sen's persecution by the Indian State

@Manish C Prabhakar: Binayak Sen's conviction shocking

@fzlsammy: Conviction of Binayak sen…..rape of fundamental rights.

@satyasagar: Dr Binayak Sen, jailed on trumped up charges, is spending the night in a cold Raipur prison. Difficult to say Merry Christmas to anyone now!m

On the other hand there are those who feel that as a Maoist sympathiser, Dr. Sen has been rightly punished by the Indian State and that the media is wrongly portraying him as a victim. For example,

@ash_dubey: Binayak Sen – overground face of underground ntinational Maoists is rightly punished.#mediagate twisting his true character in2 a “Victim”.

@damini1122: Shame on the #mediagate who are trying to invoke public sympathy for the maoist supporter Binayak Sen

@sukanyadevi: To hell with those who wage a war against the Indian State and behead innocent tribals and blow up schools & hospitals.Binayak Sen

@KiranKS: Why would a human rights activist, Binayak Sen meet a terrorist Sanyal in prison, 33 times between May 26 & Jun 30, 07?

@FirozKhanKS: Kalmadi raided, Raja questioned, binayak sen convicted! wonderful christmas eve! merry christmas to all!

So in the final analysis, is Binayak Sen a doctor who worked tirelessly for the poorest of the poor or a criminal who was not only sympathising with the Maoists and Naxals and acting as courier between the duo, helping them strengthen their network? Only time will tell, since his family is now preparing to appeal to the higher courts against the Sessions Court verdict. As of now, perhaps the answer is best summed up by Indrajit who writes:

Dr. Sen represents the complexity of the issue of groups and individuals like him.

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