On December 24th Dr. Binayak Sen, a vibrant voice for bringing health as a human right to the poor in India, was sentenced to life imprisonment for sedition. Hesperian has been campaigning against Dr. Sen’s unjust imprisonment and conviction, and stands with health advocates around the world in condemning his sentence. More than two dozen Nobel Prize winners have signed statements demanding his release and demonstrations have been held in many countries around the world against his trumped up conviction.
Read statements from our partners in Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (the Peoples’ Health Movement – India) and The Lancet below, and a statement from Dr. Sen here. You can also read mainstream media coverage of the initial protests against his sentence here, listen to radio coverage here, and find more information on the Free Binayak Sen campaign website. The campaign will be organizing a Global Day of Protest around January 30th, including a protest outside of the Indian Consulate in San Francisco on January 28th at 10am.
PHM India (JSA) statement on Binayak Sen's conviction
Date: 27 Dec 2010
We, the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a coalition of national networks and organizations actively working for health rights in the country, express our outrage at the verdict of the Raipur district and sessions court, on 24th December 2010, declaring Dr Binayak Sen, General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh People's Union for Civil Liberties and Vice-President of the National PUCL, guilty of sedition and treason, and sentencing him to life imprisonment.
Dr Sen has an illustrious record of over 25 years of selfless public service in areas of health and human rights. He has been an active member and former convenor of the Medico Friend Circle, a national organization of health professionals working towards an alternative health system responsive to the needs of the poor. He has been closely associated with the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, the Indian chapter of the People’s Health Movement. In recognition of his work, the Christian Medical College, Vellore conferred on him the Paul Harrison Award in 2004, which is the highest award given to an alumnus for distinguished service in rural areas. He continues to be an inspiration to successive generations of students and faculty. Many of his articles based on his work have been internationally appreciated.
His indictment under the draconian and undemocratic Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 is utterly condemnable. Not only has the farcical nature of the trial been reported in the media, the charges against Dr Sen, of engaging in anti-national activities, have been widely held as baseless. This judgment is an unacceptable attempt to intimidate and vilify those who advocate for the rights of the poor and the marginalized, and reveals the indiscriminate use of state machinery to stifle democratic dissent.
JSA believes that a great injustice has been done, not only to Dr Sen but also to the democratic fabric of this country. JSA salutes Dr Sen’s work, and demands that justice be delivered in his case.
Binayak Sen’s conviction: a mockery of justice
January 8, 2011
On Jan 4, the day this issue of The Lancet went to press, Binayak Sen should have been celebrating his 61st birthday. Instead, found guilty of treason and sedition by a court in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, Sen is facing the bleak prospect of a life behind bars. It is an inhumane sentence for a committed humanitarian, whose life before his imprisonment was devoted to improving the health and welfare of some of the most marginalised and poverty-stricken people in India—the Adivasi. This work led to Sen becoming the first Indian recipient of the Jonathan Mann award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2008.
From the outset the charges against Sen reeked of political motivation—a reaction to Sen’s tireless documentation of human rights abuse at the hands of the state. He was accused, on the flimsiest of evidence, of acting as a courier for the imprisoned Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal. The subsequent trial, spanning more than 3 years, was Kafkaesque. Its conclusion is a travesty.
Reaction to the ruling was swift, with the Indian press unanimous in their criticism of the court’s decision. Amnesty International described Sen as a prisoner of conscience, while a statement signed by over 80 prominent academics worldwide decried the sentence as savagery. The Lancet adds its voice to this chorus of condemnation.
In April, 2009, we called for the Indian Government to intervene in the case, and ensure that justice be done. An injustice can still be overturned by India’s supreme court. If it is not, the already profound damage done to India’s credentials as an upholder of human rights will be damaged for years to come. Where the state failed to provide for its poorest citizens, Sen stepped in to give them health care and to champion their rights. His reward: to be convicted under a section of the penal code first introduced by the British to quell political dissent, and later used to convict Mahatma Ghandi. On his conviction, Ghandi argued that the administration of the law had been “prostituted consciously or unconsciously for the benefit of the exploiter”. The conviction of Binayak Sen shows that, in parts of modern India, precious little has changed.
Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty Images via The Lancet.