Opinion – Editorials
It’s been a whole year since Binayak Sen was arrested on charges of conspiracy to wage war against the Indian state and commit other crimes. The general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties is being held under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhhatisgarh Special Public Security Act, which make the grant of bail extremely difficult. The principal case stems from a ‘confession’ made by a Kolkata-based businessman named Piyush Guha relating to three unsigned letters, purportedly written by the jailed Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal, recovered from his possession; the letters were allegedly handed over to Mr. Guha by Dr. Sen. This, the police say, is evidence of Dr. Sen’s deep involvement with the Maoists. Mr. Sanyal has been in jail in Raipur since 2006. Dr. Sen visited him 33 times as general secretary of the PUCL and in his capacity as a physician since the 70-year-old Maoist leader had a medical condition requiring surgery. The police accuse Dr. Sen of being a courier for Mr. Sanyal. Dr. Sen’s lawyers strenuously contest this allegation and it is surely relevant that Mr. Guha told a magistrate at the first opportunity that he made no confession and was made to sign blank papers under duress.
The case throws up a number of disturbing issues. First, given Dr. Sen’s impeccable record of working for and defending the health and human rights of the poor, especially adivasis, and the nature of the evidence tying him to a banned organisation, the authorities certainly abused their powers under a draconian law to object to the grant of bail.There was neither risk of flight nor any question of Dr. Sen using his freedom to interfere with the investigation. Secondly, while the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Chhattisgarh might have its reasons for wanting Dr. Sen behind bars, the reluctance of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court — the principal institutional guarantor of citizens’ fundamental rights — to grant bail in this case has been disappointing. Thirdly, the arrest under the PSA of another PUCL activist in Chhattisgarh, the filmmaker Ajay T.G., suggests that the local authorities are gunning for those opposed to Salwa Judum, the brutal counter-insurgency campaign run by the authorities. The manifest injustice in Dr. Sen’s case has triggered an international campaign demanding his release and also that he be allowed to travel to Washington to receive the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights on May 29. The Chhattisgarh authorities should abandon their shameful vendetta and the central government should do whatever is in its power to ensure that Dr. Sen and Ajay T.G. are set free immediately.
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