BY Anil Mishra and Kunal Majumder
“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.