Archive for April, 2008
Chhattisgarh Government Should Not Use Naxalite Issue to Silence Critics
(New York, April 29, 2008) – Criminal charges against award-winning human rights defender Dr. Binayak Sen raise serous concerns that he will not get a fair trial in Raipur district court in Chhattisgarh state when hearings begin on April 30, Human Rights Watch said today.
Chhattisgarh state officials charged Sen in February 2008 with being a member of a “terrorist organization.” Sen has been in custody since May 14, 2007. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life imprisonment.
For over two decades, Sen has provided medical care in remote tribal villages in Chhattisgarh. He has received numerous awards in recognition of his work. On April 22, the Global Health Council announced that he won the 2008 Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights.
“Dr. Sen appears to be a victim of the Chhattisgarh government’s attempt to silence those who criticize its policies and failure to protect human rights in its fight against Naxalites,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The court should ensure that this trial is not used by the state government to cover up its failures by punishing the messenger.”
Human Rights Watch said that likely political motivations for the charges and other fair trial concerns in Chhattisgarh merit the trial’s change of venue to another Indian state. The case against Sen was brought after he called on the Chhattisgarh government to respect human rights in its campaign against Maoist armed combatants called Naxalites.
The presiding judge has allowed only one of Sen’s supporters to attend the hearings at a time, despite a provision in international law that trials be public. A judge may cite public order reasons to restrict the attendance of the press and public. However, the district court’s limit of one supporter of the defendant at the trial is unnecessarily restrictive and raises broader concerns about the fairness of the trial.
“The actions of the local authorities and the presiding judge call into serious question whether Dr. Sen will receive a fair trial,” said Adams. “To ensure fairness, the venue should be moved to another state with no political axe to grind.”
In 2005, the Salwa Judum movement was started with state support in Chhattisgarh to oppose the Naxalites. With state backing, the Salwa Judum began committing serious human rights abuses, including killings, beatings of critics, burning of villages, and forced relocation of villagers into government camps. As a prominent leader of the human rights group People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Sen called for an end to Salwa Judum abuses. He also opposed the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, criticized human rights violations such as torture, extrajudicial killings and campaigned for improvements in prison conditions.
Sen was first detained under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006. Human Rights Watch has criticized this law because it could lead to serious abuses. The law allows detention for “unlawful activities,” a term so loosely defined that it can severely restrict the peaceful activities of individuals and civil society organizations in violation of the Indian constitution and international human rights law.
The state’s primary evidence produced in court thus far includes letters Sen allegedly smuggled out of prison, which were written by an alleged Maoist leader, Narayan Sanyal. The police say that Sen visited Sanyal in prison a number of times, and that documents and other materials, including his computer, confiscated after his arrest, allegedly contain unspecified subversive materials. Sen has denied all these charges and said that his meetings with Sanyal were facilitated by jail authorities to provide medical care.
“The laws in Chhattisgarh make it easy for the government to prosecute human rights defenders like Dr. Sen,” said Adams. “The court must fairly decide whether a real crime has been committed.”
Last week, almost a year after he was arrested in Chhattisgarh as an alleged ‘Naxalite’, Dr Binayak Sen became the first South Asian to be awarded the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights. He remains in prison.
I first met Binayak in the mid eighties when I went to screen my documentaries for the Shankar Guha Niyogi led Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM). Under Niyogi’s leadership the CMM had brought hope to thousands of exploited adivasi mine workers. Binayak and two other doctors volunteered their services to the union and with the shram daan (volunteer labour) of the workers set up a small but wonderfully efficient 15-bed hospital, an element of a larger dream.
The dream was cut short in 1991 when Niyogi was shot dead as he slept in his hut. Some of his hired killers were jailed briefly but those who had masterminded the murder reportedly enjoyed the support of BJP Chief Minister Sunderlal Patwa and escaped punishment. After Niyogi’s death the CMM, led by Janaklal Thakur and other workers, fought on valiantly, but times were changing. Corporations were eyeing Chhatisgarh’s mineral wealth. By the nineties the mantra of privatisation was sweeping the nation clear of all talk of justice and equal opportunity. In this atmosphere, rapacious corporations stepped in where the hired goons of corrupt politicians had hesitated. The non-violent methods of the CMM failed to contain the advent of those whose X ray eyes could see the profit that lay beneath the ground once the adivasi skin on the surface had been scalped—profits so large that State connivance was easily procured. Mainstream media grew tired of reporting the daily atrocities heaped on the people.
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The Hindu -26th April 2008
Bangalore, Staff reporter
Instead of sloganeering and rhetoric, groups of doctors across the country hit upon the idea of organising free medical camps to express their opposition against the imprisonment of human rights activist Binayak Sen.
To highlight what they termed an unfair arrest, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as People’s health movement and Medico Friends Circle organised one such camp at LR Nagar in Koramangala here on Friday.
Dr. Sen, vice-president of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), was arrested at Bilaspur in Chattisgarh in May 2007, on the charge of being linked to naxalites. Dr. Sen is known for his work among the poor. He is credited with setting up a unique 400 bed hospital run by a workers cooperative in a backward area of Chattisgarh.
Two of the six doctors at the camp, N. Devadasan and his wife Rupa, both public health specialists, were associates of Dr Sen. Dr Devadasan is a fellow alumni from CMC, Vellore.
“We were shocked when we heard of his arrest because he is a very gentle person and one who does not believe in violence. Associating him with naxalites seems illogical,” said Dr Devadasan. “To a person such as Dr Sen, it will not matter if his patient is a naxalite or a capitalist, because it would be his primary duty as a doctor to save anyone he can, ” he said.
“He is always humble, always simple. Never a very vocal person, Dr Sen was always action-oriented,” said SJ Chander, a social scientist and member of the People’s Health Movement.
The camp was inaugurated by Hassan Mansoor, State convenor for the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, and popular comedian Sriram, both of whom sought prevention of abuse of human rights in all forms.
Referring to people arriving for the camp, activist P. Robert said, “This stream will keep up the whole day. Consultation and medication will be provided for as long as possible. Such aid is also provided in many Free Binayak Clinics that have been set up throughout the country.”
Renukamma, a resident said, “Going to normal clinics cost us at least Rs 200 in consultation and medication charges. So the free camp means a lot to us.”
This camp will be held next month at the same venue. Local people have offered to contribute to such camps.
COMMITTEE FOR THE RELEASE OF DR BINAYAK SEN
23 APRIL 2008
Jailed pediatrician, humanitarian worker and civil rights activist Dr Binayak Sen has become the first South Asian ever to win the prestigious 2008 Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights.
The Global Health Council is the world’s largest membership alliance of public health organizations and professionals working to improve health and save lives among the poor. The Council serves and represents public health organizations and professionals working in more than 140 countries on six continents.
Keeping in view Dr Sen’s current status as a prisoner of conscience, the Global Health Council, along with other international health organisations has requested Indian authorities to find the means to allow Dr Sen to receive his award in person in Washington, DC on May 29th, 2008, at the 35th Annual International Conference on Global Health.
In a letter to the President of India, the Prime Minister of India, and the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Dr. Nils Dulaire, President of the Global Health Council, has written:
” We wish to be clear: it is not our intent to interfere with the judicial process. We simply request that this doctor’s good works and highly regarded reputation as a man of science and service, and his international following, serve as guarantee of his obligation to return to India to participate in a just and fair judicial process after the awards ceremony, if his case is not resolved sooner.
The world is watching this case. Some have expressed concern that it might represent a dwindling respect for civil liberties in India. We believe, however, that allowing Dr. Sen to attend the award’s ceremony would send a strong signal internationally that would help to restore faith that India and its states are indeed committed to fairly addressing this and other cases related to civil conflicts and civil liberties. Dr. Binayak Sen’s travel to the United States for this purpose would pose no threat to the security of Chhattisgarh or the integrity of the Indian judicial system.
Please consider finding the means to allow him to receive his award in person.”
Dr Sen was detained under anti-terrorist legislation on May 14, 2007, by the Chattisgarh government and accused of passing notes from a Maoist rebel leader he was treating in jail to someone outside the prison. Dr Sen denies committing any crime and says his activities in jail were supervised by prison authorities.
According to a press statement by the GHC the 58-year-old pediatrician was selected by an international jury of public health professionals for the prestigious Jonathan Mann award because of his years of service to poor and tribal communities in India, his effective leadership in establishing self-sustaining health care services where none existed, and his unwavering commitment to civil liberties and human rights.
Of note, nine of the 2008 nominees are Indian: Dr. Swami Hardas of Pune, Mr. Surya Makaria of Hyderabad, Mr. Deelip Mhaske of Mumbai, Dr. Ugrasen Pandey of Firozabad, Dr. Prameelamma Pedamali of Srikalahasti, Dr. Kamalesh Sarkar of Kolkata, Dr. Mukesh Shukla of Surendranagar, Dr. Diwakar Tejaswi of Patna, and Dr. Binayak Sen of Raipur.
In addition to working with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties Dr Sen and his wife, Dr. Ilina Sen, are the founders of Rupantar, a community-based nongovernmental organization that has trained, deployed and monitored the work of community health workers spread throughout 20 villages. Rupantar’s activities include initiatives to counter alcohol abuse and violence against women, and to promote food security.
“Dr. Sen’s accomplishments speak volumes about what can be achieved in very poor areas when health practitioners are also committed community leaders”, said Dr. Nils Daulaire, president of the Global Health Council.
Many national and global organizations and prominent persons have protested Dr Sen’s arrest and his long imprisonment without trial. He was recently released from a period of solitary confinement and has suffered health problems resulting from his nearly year-long imprisonment. Dr Sen’s supporters around the world have asked the Chattisgarh government to withdraw all charges against him and release him immediately.
As the 2008 Mann Award winner, Dr. Binayak is the tenth individual and the first South Asian to be thus honored by the Global Health Council. Previous winners include the following. Dr. Bogaletch Gabre, a champion of women’s rights who is a pioneer in eradicating the practice of female genital excision in Ethiopia (2007); Dr. Juan Canales, who helped marginalized peasants and indigenous communities in conflict-ridden areas of El Salvador and Mexico gain their human right to health care by establishing community medicine and public health programmes (2006); Prof. Abdel Mohammad Gerais who advocated for and established reproductive health services to those most in need in Egypt (2005); Dr. Sima Sahar who led innovative programs in health, education, construction, relief, and income generation to improve the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan (2004); Mr. Zackie Achmat and Dr. Frenk Guni, who have worked to raise awareness and advocate for equity of people with HIV/AIDS in South Africa and Zimbabwe (2003); Dr. Ruchama Marton and Mr. Salah Haj Yehya, associated with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, providing volunteer health care in the occupied territories of the Wset Bank (2002); Dr. Gao Yaojie, a gynaecologist involved in HIV/AIDS care and prevention work in China (2002); Dr. Flora Brovina and Dr. Vjosa Dobruna who worked with refugees in the Kosovo conflict and now with women and children victims of war crimes, in Kosovo (2000); and Dr. Cynthia Maung who committed her life to healing victims of human rights abuses in Burma (1999).
For further information contact:
Anil Chaudhary, INSAF 9811119347
Kavita Srivastava, PUCL 09351562965
Satya Sivaraman 9818514952
Sreerekha, Saheli 9868120339
Statement of Support for Dr. Binayak Sen’s Travel to Washington, DC, to Receive the Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights
We, the undersigned organizations, wish to convey to the relevant authorities in the government of India and state of Chhattisgarh our sincere pleasure in announcing that a citizen of India, Dr. Binayak Sen, has been selected to receive the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights for 2008. After receiving hundreds of nominations for the award from throughout the world, the distinguished jury of public health and human rights experts who decide this award each year selected Dr. Sen on the basis of his years of service in poor and tribal communities in India, his effective leadership in establishing self-sustaining health-care services where none existed, and his unwavering commitment to civil liberties and human rights.
We also would like to convey our concern and dismay that Dr. Sen remains imprisoned, after nearly one year without trial, on allegations that he passed notes from a rebel leader whom he treated in jail to a person outside the prison. Dr. Sen has denied all wrong doing and nothing in his character or history, as a dedicated community leader who has urged a peaceful settlement to this conflict for years, would support the accusations made against him. These allegations have not been substantiated or proven and have prevented Dr. Sen from providing his much-needed health services to the poor in his area, as well as his community leadership activities as an officer of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
We kindly request that the relevant government authorities at the state and national levels address this case fairly and swiftly and consider fully the tremendous contributions that Dr. Sen has brought not only to communities in Chhattisgarh, but to all of India and to the world. We request that means be found to release Dr. Sen to attend the 35th Annual International Conference on Global Health in Washington, DC, where he has been invited to receive the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in person on May 29, 2008.
As with any citizen, Dr. Sen deserves due process. In addition, the international jury of experts reviewing the nominees were impressed that the doctor is held in such high regard by many patients and peers for his exemplary professional work and leadership over the years. Dr. Sen’s attendance at the awards’ ceremony on May 29 will not, in our opinion, jeopardize the judicial process in India, a country that prides itself as the world’s largest democracy where human rights and rule of law are respected and practiced, and we urge you to make this possible.
- Nils Daulaire, M.D., M.P.H., President and CEO, Global Health Council
- Thomas Dougherty, M.P.H., Executive Director, Doctors of the World-USA
- Joel Lamstein, President, John Snow, Inc
- Albina du Boisrouvray, Founder and President, Association François-Xavier Bagnoud
- Mary Robinson, Executive Director, Ethical Globalization Initiative
- Jim Yong Kim, M.D., Ph.D, Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School
- Stephen H. Lewis, Co-Director, AIDS-Free World
- A. Frank Donaghue, CEO, Physicians for Human Rights
- Abhay Bang, M.D., M.P.H.
- Lydia Mann-Bondat, Naomi Mann, and Aaron Mann, children of Jonathan Mann
19 April 2008
The Kerala Swatantra Matsyathoyilali Federation (KSMTF) and Free Dr Binayak Sen Campaign have decided to hold free medical camps in Kerala in a unique show of support for the release of well known health and human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen.
On 14th May 2007, almost a year ago, Dr Sen was arrested by the Chattisgarh police under the draconian ‘Unlawful Activities Prevention Act’ on false charges of being a ‘Maoist’.
Almost a year later now Dr Sen continues to be in jail and hearings of the case against him in the Chattisgarh High Court have commenced. In the meanwhile Dr Sen, who has already lost 15 kilos in just ten months of imprisonment and is in poor health, languishing in jail for the sole crime of working with the poor and defending democratic rights.
“ The arrest of Dr Sen is a case of high handed behaviour of the BJP ruled Chattisgarh government against an internationally renowned doctor with three decades of public service” said T.Peter, President, KSMTF, C.Sarat Chandran, film maker and Satya Sivaraman of the Free Dr Binayak Sen Campaign in a statement.
An alumnus of the Christian Medical College and of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Dr Sen is a respected physician much honoured for his self-sacrificing commitment to social causes. In December 2007, the Indian Academy of Social Sciences conferred on him the R. R. Keithan Gold Medal, as an “indefatigable defender of human rights and Gandhian social activist of rare courage and dedication”. Currently, he has been nominated for the Jonathan Mann Award 2008, the highest international award for health professionals excelling in human rights activities.
KSMTF plans to join health and human rights activists around India who are campaigning for Dr Sen’s release through a series of Free Binayak Sen Medical Camps to arouse public awareness about his case.
Over 125 men, women and children attended the first Free Binayak Sen Medical Camp held in New Delhi at the Jai Hind basti, a colony of ragpickers and domestic workers. Other camps are planned every month for the rest of 2008 in Chennai, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Trivandrum and Kolkata.
The medical camps are also part of an effort to take forward Dr Sen’s innovative public health work to new areas and highlight the issues of nutrition, child health and the link between socio-economic rights and health. India has one of the worst health indicators in the world, even lower than that of sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the areas of infant and maternal mortality.
T.Peter President, KSMTF Ph: 9447429243
C.Sarat Chandran Filmmaker 09446426433
Satya Sivaraman Free Dr Binayak Sen Campaign Ph:09818514952
FREE DR BINAYAK SEN CAMPAIGN
16 April 2008
In a show of solidarity with the campaign for the release of Dr Binayak Sen, a delegation of activists representing the Bhopal gas tragedy survivors visited the second Free Binayak Sen Medical Camp in New Delhi on 13 April.
Speaking to members of the Jai Hind community, where the medical camp was organized, Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action talked about Dr Sen’s important contribution to public health in Chattisgarh and his work on human rights. Dr Sen, renowned internationally for his humanitarian work, is currently detained by the Chattisgarh government on false charges of aiding the underground Maoist movement.
“To arrest a person of Dr Sen’s record of public service, non-violent social work and deep commitment to the poor is a complete travesty of justice” said Satinath Sarangi. He offered to hold medical camps in Bhopal in support of Dr Sen’s release through the Sambhavana clinic, which caters to over 30,000 people still suffering from the after effects of the gas disaster of 3 December 1984.
Other activists from Bhopal talked about the problems facing the survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster. Around 300 such survivors, who have walked over 800 kilometers from Bhopal to New Delhi, are in the national capital to highlight their demands for setting up a Special Commission on Bhopal to address various issues affecting local people and to prosecute Dow Chemicals which inherited the criminal and other liabilities of Union Carbide, the US multinational responsible for the Bhopal gas tragedy.
At the Free Binayak Sen Medical Camp over 150 patients from the Jai Hind community were treated for a variety of ailments – many of them linked to low nutrition, poor quality of drinking water and sanitation available in the area. The camp was organized by the Delhi based Sajha Manch and its associated organisations as part of a nationwide initiative for the release of popular health and human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen.
“Training local youth in basic principles of medical care will be helpful to them as well as the community in general ” said Dr Jacob Puliyal, one of the doctors volunteering his services for the camp. Doctors participating in the Free Binayak Sen Medical Camps have offered to provide such training to youth from the Jai Hind community and this is expected to commence in May this year.
The initiative, of holding monthly Free Binayak Sen Medical Camps for the urban and rural poor, in cities and towns around the country – is meant to raise public awareness about Dr Sen’s detention under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, and call for his unconditional release.
The camps are also part of an effort to take forward Dr Sen’s innovative public health work to new areas and highlight the issues of nutrition, child health and the link between socio-economic rights and health. According to a recent report by the news channel IBN/CNN over 6000 children die every day due to malnutrition in India, a situation worse than prevailing in sub-Saharan Africa.
Other Free Binayak Sen Medical Camps are planned among urban poor communities for April in Chennai, Coimbatore, Bangalore and Kolkata.
For further information contact:
- Dunu Roy, New Delhi qadeeroy at vsnl.com Ph: 9910687627
- Satya Sivaraman, New Delhi satyasagar at gmail.com Ph: 9818514952
- Dr Rakhal Gaitonde, Chennai subharakhal at gmail.com Ph: 9940246089
- Dr Punyabrata Gun, Kolkata shramajibiswasthya at yahoo.co.in Ph: 9830922194
- Dr N.Devadasan, Bangalore deva at devadasan.com Ph: 9448491355
FREE DR BINAYAK SEN CAMPAIGN
11 April 2008
Health and human rights groups from India and abroad have strongly condemned the unwarranted imposition of solitary confinement on renowned humanitarian activist Dr Binayak Sen by the Chattisgarh government since 15 March 2008 at the Raipur Jail.
Though Dr Sen’s status as a regular prisoner has now been restored, following widespread protests against the move, activists have called for a thorough official investigation of the fact that he was kept in isolation for nearly a month.
Police officials in Raipur have justified their action by claiming Dr Sen was kept in isolation ‘for his own security’ but failed to explain the nature or source of the threat to him as a regular prisoner.
According to a petition signed by hundreds of medical professionals, former colleagues and supporters of Dr Sen, solitary confinement not only violates the Indian Penal Code but also all axioms of justice and fairplay. Dr Sen has been kept in prison for the past eleven months under the Chattisgarh State Public Security Act, on false charges of aiding outlawed Maoist activity.
“Confining a person of Dr Sen’s stature to solitary confinement is very likely to be seen as vengefulness on the part of agents of the state and an obvious attempt to break the morale of a courageous critic” it said. Along with his work on public health for over three decades Dr Sen was also a human rights activist, being the national Vice President of the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties.
The petition, which calls for Dr Sen’s immediate release, also pointed out that such treatment was completely unwarranted as Dr Sen is an undertrial and not convicted of any crime and even convicted persons are protected by law from any cruel and unusual punishment. Quoting an Amnesty International document on the subject the petition said the imprisonment of a person in total isolation is not acceptable under international human rights standards.
The petitioners also expressed deep concern over the impact of such solitary confinement on the physical and mental health of Dr Sen, who during the course of his imprisonment has already lost much weight according to the jail records.
Dr. Sen is a respected physician much honoured for his self-sacrificing commitment to social causes and his unflinching defense of civil rights. An alumnus of the Christian Medical College and of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, he has received has received many awards for his public service. In December 2007, the Indian Academy of Social Sciences conferred on him the R. R. Keithan Gold Medal, as an “indefatigable defender of human rights and Gandhian social activist of rare courage and dedication”. Currently, he has been nominated for the Jonathan Mann Award 2008, the highest international award for health professionals excelling in human rights activities.
For further information contact:
- Satya Sivaraman satyasagar at gmail.com Ph: 9818514952
- Sabu George sabumg at vsnl.com Ph: 9810619901
We the undersigned strongly condemn the imposition of solitary confinement on Dr Binayak Sen by the authorities of Raipur Jail in Chattisgarh since 15 March 2008.
To keep Dr Sen in solitary confinement not only violates the Indian Penal Code but also all principles of justice and fairplay.
It is unfortunate enough that Dr Sen, an internationally renowned humanitarian activist, has been kept in prison for the past eleven months on false charges under the Chattisgarh State Public Security Act, a law that violates the basic provisions of the Indian Constitution. To further subject him to solitary confinement is nothing but a sign of vengefulness on the part of the Raipur Jail and Chattisgarh police authorities and an obvious attempt to break his morale.
We would like to point out that such treatment is completely unwarranted as Dr Sen is an undertrial and not convicted of any crime. Even convicted persons are protected by law from any cruel and unusual punishment.
It is well established that confinement of any prisoner carries the risk of serious mental and physical harm and can amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The imprisonment of a person in total isolation is not acceptable under international human rights standards.
We would also like to express deep concern over the impact of such solitary confinment on the physical and mental health of Dr Sen, a heart patient, who during the course of his imprisonment has already lost over 15 kilograms in weight.
We expect the Chattisgarh Government to withdraw all charges against Dr Sen and release him from jail immediately. We will hold the authorities responsible for any harm that may befall Dr Sen during his detention, a deliberate act of blatant victimisation of one of India’s finest public spirited health and human rights activist.