Global protests on first anniversary of arrest
12 May 2008
In an unprecedented move twenty-two Nobel Prize winning scientists and economists have appealed to the Indian government to release the jailed paediatrician and humanitarian activist Dr Binayak Sen enabling him to go and receive the 2008 Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights in Washington later this month.
Dr Sen, who is the first south Asian to be selected for the prestigious award, was arrested under the Chattisgarh State Public Security Act last year on false charges of ‘supporting’ unlawful activities of an armed underground movement. There is no evidence to prove these charges however and it is widely believed that Dr Sen is being victimised for his human rights work and exposure of violations carried out by police and the state-sponsored militia called Salwa Judum in Chattisgarh.
“While the judicial process involving our professional colleague moves forward, we respectfully request that Dr. Sen be freed from incarceration on humanitarian grounds to receive his award and to continue his important medical work” says the letter from the Nobel Prize winners, dated 9 May and addressed to a host of top Indian officials including Smt. Pratibha Patil, President of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister and Dr Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chattisgarh.
Signatories to the letter include 9 Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, 9 in Chemistry, 2 in Physics and 2 in Economics. These luminaries are
PETER AGRE (Chemistry 2003), KENNETH J. ARROW(Economics 1972) , CLAUDE COHEN-TANNOUDJI (Physics 1997), ROBERT CURL(Chemistry 1996), JOHANN DEISENHOFER(Chemistry 1988), PAUL GREENGARD (Physiology or Medicine 2000), ROGER GUILLEMIN ( Physiology or Medicine 1977), FRANCOIS JACOB(Physiology or Medicine 1965), ERIC KANDEL (Physiology or Medicine 2000), SIR HARALD KROTO (Chemistry 1996), FINN KYDLAND (Economics 2004), YUAN T. LEE (Chemistry 1986), CRAIG C. MELLO (Physiology or Medicine 2006), JOHN POLANYI (Chemistry 1986), RICHARD J. ROBERTS (Physiology or Medicine 1993), F. SHERWOOD ROWLAND (Chemistry 1995), JENS C. SKOU (Chemistry 1997), (PHILLIP A. SHARP (Physiology or Medicine 1993), CHARLES TOWNES (Physics 1964), HAROLD VARMUS (Physiology or Medicine 1989), SIR JOHN E. WALKER (Chemistry 1997), TORSTEN WIESEL( Physiology or Medicine 1981)
(corrected the list.)
The Nobel Prize winners statement also raises concerns that Dr. Sen appears to be incarcerated solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental human rights, in contravention of Articles 19 (freedom of opinion and expression) and 22 (freedom of association) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—to which India is a state party. Further it says “…he is charged under two internal security laws that do not comport with international human rights standards.”
This is not the first time that prominent intellectuals from around the world have appealed for the release of Dr Binayak Sen, an outstanding humanitarian physician who has spent over three decades in the service of rural and tribal communities in Chattisgarh. In a statement last month Dr. Nils Dulaire, President of the Global Health Council, which selected Dr Sen for the Jonathan Mann Award said “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”
However the coming together of twenty-two Nobel Prize winners in support of a political prisoner in India is unprecedented and speaks volumes of the admiration evoked by Dr Sen among his global peers.
“It provides clear evidence of the level of concern that Binayak’s case has engendered around the world,” said Dr Ilina Sen, wife of Dr Binayak Sen, herself a well-known scholar and rights activist.
In the meanwhile on 14 May, 2008, the first anniversary of Dr Sen’s arrest, hundreds of people across the globe are planning to stage demonstrations, hold vigils and organise public meetings demanding his immediate release.
Apart from cities like New Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai in India protests are also planned in ten North American and three European cities including New York, Toronto, London, Paris and Stockholm. Most of these protests, organised by members of the Indian diaspora along with global activist groups, will be staged outside Indian embassies and consulates in these cities.
All told, the international attention proves, as was noted in the Global Health Council’s statement of support, that the “world is watching” to see whether India will maintain its proud democratic tradition.
For further information contact:
- Satya Sivaraman, New Delhi Ph: +91–9818514952
- Dr P.Zachariah, Vellore Ph: +91-9442607116
- Dr Rakhal, Chennai Ph: +91- 9940246089
- Dr Punyabrata Gun, Kolkata Ph: +91-9830922194
- Dr Abhay Shukla, Pune Ph: +91-9422317515
- Somu Kumar, US email@example.com
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- Kalpana Wilson, London email@example.com