South Asia News
Indian rights activist gets life term for link with Maoists
Dec 24, 2010, 11:50 GMT
New Delhi - Human rights activists said they were stunned after an Indian court Friday sentenced rights campaigner and public health expert Binayak Sen to life in prison after finding him guilty of helping Maoist rebels.
A lower court in the central state of Chhattisgarh found Sen guilty of sedition and conspiracy, the IANS and PTI news agencies reported.
Sen, who has spent a quarter-century practising medicine among tribal people of Chhattisgarh, was arrested in 2007 for his alleged links with the Maoists.
A recipient of the Global Health Council's Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2008, Sen was released on bail in May 2009 after spending two years in jail.
The Indian government has been trying to weed out Maoist rebels and their leaders in an operation launched in November 2009. The rebels operate in some of India's poorest areas, largely populated by tribal people.
'I am shocked by this judgement,' said Mahipal Singh, secretary of the People's Union For Civil Liberties. 'There is absolutely no evidence against Binayak Sen. How can a human rights activist be sentenced like this? It's a sad day for our democracy.'
Sen, who is a vice president of the rights group, was accused of helping the Maoists and of carrying letters to and from Narayan Sanyal, a jailed Maoist leader.
Sanyal was also found guilty of sedition Friday and sentenced to life imprisonment along with Kolkata-based businessman Piyush Guha, also accused of links with the rebels.
During court proceedings in 2009, Sen said he did not support the Maoists. He has, however, often criticized the government for its handling of the Maoist rebellion and for neglecting development in tribal areas.
Rights groups in India and across the world; a host of intellectuals, including American writer Noam Chomsky; and 2,000 doctors signed petitions in 2009 demanding Sen's release.
Sen's family and supporters said they would challenge Friday's verdict in a higher court once it opened in January after a winter recess.
'This is a fabricated case by the Chattisgarh government and police,' said Kavita Srivastava, PUCL general secretary. 'We will go for appeal.'
India's Maoist rebels are active in a third of India's 626 districts and virtually control 34, according to the Home Ministry.
The Maoists claimed they are leading an armed rebellion to secure the rights of the poor and marginalized.
At least 1,152 rebels, troops and civilians have been killed in violence linked to the insurgency since January, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
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