Indian activist gets life sentence for sedition

An Indian doctor was sentenced to life imprisonment on Friday after being convicted of sedition for helping Maoist rebels in a case that has drawn widespread international attention.

During Binayak Sen’s two-and-a-half year trial prosecutors argued that the doctor had been involved in helping Maoists create an urban network and had acted as a go-between for a Maoist leader and a businessman.

Police arrested Sen on charges of waging war against the state three years ago in the central state of Chhattisgarh — the hub of India’s widespread Maoist insurgency.

The sessions court judge in the state capital Raipur pronounced Sen and two other men guilty of sedition and unlawful activity, and said the sentence would be announced later in the day.

Prosecutors made the case that the doctor was involved in helping Maoists create an urban network and had acted as a go-between for a Maoist leader and a businessman.

Doctor claims innocence
An Agence France-Presse reporter inside the courtroom said Sen wept when the verdict was announced. His lawyer said he would appeal the verdict.

Sen, a paediatrician and human rights activist who was freed on bail last year, has always maintained his innocence.

“I have never condoned Maoist violence. It is an invalid and unsustainable movement,” he said after his arrest.

His wife Ilina, who was in court with the couple’s two daughters, voiced outrage.

“It’s totally irrational. This person who has given his entire life for the poor is now convicted of sedition,” she said.

Sen had been running health clinics and training health workers in Chhattisgarh’s tribal communities, who are among the poorest in India and whose plight the Maoist rebels claim to champion.

Number one threat to Indian security
In 2008, the US-based Global Health Council gave him the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for global health and human rights in recognition of his services to the poor and disadvantaged.

While Sen was still in jail, 22 Nobel laureates sent a letter to the Indian government criticising his imprisonment and asking that he be freed in order to collect the award in person.

“We wish to express grave concern that Dr Sen appears to be incarcerated solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental human rights,” the letter said, adding that the internal security laws used to charge Sen “do not comport with international human rights standards.”

Almost 1 000 people, including 577 civilians, died in the first 10 months of 2010 in violence linked to the Maoist revolt across India, according to official data.

The rebel movement, which began in 1967, feeds off land disputes, police brutality and corruption and is strongest in the poorest and most deprived areas of India, many of which are rich in natural resources.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has labelled the insurgency the number one threat to India’s internal security. — AFP

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