New Delhi: Human rights activist Binayak Sen was sentenced to life imprisonment after being held guilty of sedition by a Raipur court on Friday. The court sentenced Sen for helping Maoist rebels in their fight against the state of Chhattisgarh. Along with Sen, Naxal ideologue Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata-based businessman Piyush Guha were also found guilty of sedition and given life sentences.
The three, facing trial in Chhattisgarh for allegedly aiding the region’s Maoist rebels, were held guilty under provisions of Section 124 IPC (sedition), 120 B IPC (conspiracy) and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act by additional district and sessions judge B.P. Verma.
Binayak’s Sen’s wife, Ilina Sen, said Sen would appeal against the ruling. “We will definitely appeal against the verdict, but we can finalize the exact steps only after reading the entire judgement. But this speaks very badly of the Indian state and government,” she told Mint over the telephone from Raipur.
“A person who has worked for the poor and helped formulate crucial policies in the state for the last 30 years is now being charged with sedition,” she said. “There is a very strong case for repealing the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act.”
Sen’s lawyer Mahendra Dubey also confirmed that the verdict would be appealed.
“The day we chargesheeted him, we thought we had enough material to establish a prima facie case,” said Vishwa Ranjan, director general of police, Chhattisgarh.
Sen, an activist with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, was arrested in May 2007 from Bilaspur. In May last year, the Supreme Court had granted bail to Sen after he spent 22 months in prison in Chhattisgarh.
A group of 22 Nobel Laureates had sent a letter in 2008 to President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing concern about the case against Sen and appealing for his release.
The 58-year old activist, a paediatrician by training, had been accused by the prosecution of carrying messages and letters from Naxal ideologue Sanyal to underground Maoists. Sanyal, 67, was arrested in Andhra Pradesh’s Khammam District in January 2006, while Guha, 35, was arrested the following May.
Both have been in jail after the prosecution charged them with helping Maoists to set up a network.
Activists condemned the verdict and said they would campaign for Sen’s freedom.
“This is a shocking verdict and nothing can justify it,” said Nikhil Dey, an activist and founder of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan. “It will obviously be contested but the courts should also, as soon as possible, give an opportunity for rectification. In the meanwhile, we will obviously campaign for his freedom and do all we can,” Dey added.
Bilaspur-based activist lawyer Sudip Srivastava says Sen’s case is complex and needs to be dealt with accordingly.
“Legally, now Binayak Sen can appeal in the higher courts, but one must remember that his bail petition was rejected both by the high court and Supreme Court, before subsequently being accepted by the latter,” Srivastava said. “The allegations in this case are of a special nature as it is a sensitive issue where there is no clear-cut evidence. It is largely based on circumstantial evidence and hence has to be dealt with very carefully.”
The Prime Minister has previously described the Maoist insurgency as the “biggest threat to India’s internal security”.
PTI contributed to this story.