India: Global protests & web appeal as doctor who championed the poor marks two years in jail

Amnesty International launches a new appeal on 14 May calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr Binayak Sen, a human rights defender and pioneer of health care to marginalised communities in India, as Dr Sen completes his second year behind bars.

Dr Sen, 59, was arrested on 14 May 2007. Seven months passed before proper charges were filed against him, during which time he was denied bail and kept in soiltary confinement. He was finally charged with facilitating armed Maoist violence and if convicted, he could face a life term in jail. His trial has faced repeated, prolonged delays and has still reached no conclusion, months after legal proceedings began. Amnesty International believes that the charges and evidence against Dr Sen are baseless and politically motivated.

On 14 May, campaigners around the world - in London, Edinburgh, Germany, Italy, the US and in locations all over India - will be protesting against Binayak Sen's continuing incarceration. Many of them are fellow doctors who have taken up Dr Sen's case. Amnesty is asking people to go to www.amnesty.org.uk/binayak-sen to send an appeal to the Indian authorities calling for the immediate release of Dr Sen.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“Dr Sen is a champion of the poor and the marginalised. He has set up pioneering community health clinics and has stood up for indigenous communities whose voices are seldom heard. He has spoken out about government abuses of human rights when others were silent. Yet now he finds himself marking his second year in jail.

“Dr Sen’s imprisonment is a glaring example of how the Indian authorities misuse security legislation to target activists. The new powers contain vague and sweeping definitions of ‘unlawful activities’.

“Under no circumstances should peacefully defending people’s human rights be termed an ‘unlawful activity’ Dr Sen should be released immediately and allowed to get back to his important work for the local community.”

Prior to his arrest, Dr Sen had criticised the state authorities for enacting special security legislation. He had also highlighted unlawful killings of adivasis (indigenous people) by the police and by Salwa Judum, a private militia widely held to be sponsored by the state authorities to fight the guerrillas of the CPI (Maoist). The state authorities have so far failed to conduct effective and impartial investigations into these unlawful killings.

Dr Sen’s wife, Dr Ilina Sen, who regularly visits him in jail, has reported to Amnesty that he suffers from recurrent chest pain and needs specialist medical care, but the state government has denied Dr Sen’s pleas for transfer to a hospital outside Rajpur.

Many of the charges against Dr Sen stem from laws that contravene international standards. The security legislation - the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act, 2005 (CSPSA) - enables the authorities to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals, as well as seek their punishment, on unclear grounds. This is in violation of Article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a state party.

Amnesty International is calling on the Indian authorities to:

- Release Dr Sen immediately and unconditionally;
- Ensure Dr Sen has access to medical treatment of his choice while he remains in custody;
- Ensure fair and prompt trials for at least 50 prisoners in Chhattisgarh who face charges under various security legislations;
- Take effective measures to respect and protect the rights of human rights defenders, in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. This includes ensuring that they are not arbitrarily detained, hindered or harassed because of the legitimate exercise of their human rights.

Amnesty International understands that Dr Sen’s earlier meetings with jailed Maoist leaders (on which some of the accusations against him are based) were limited to his legitimate professional work as a doctor and a human rights defender and facilitated by the jail authorities.

Details of London protest:
WHAT: Free Binayak Sen protest (by coalition of organisations and activists)
WHEN: 2pm-6pm, Thursday 14th May
WHERE: High Comnmission of India, India House, Aldwych, London WC2B 4NA

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