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Unscreened footage throws light on Binayak Sen case

Aman Sethi

Raipur: A pair of burly hands affixes several lengths of masking tape to an open brown bag. Then the same hands are shown to belong to an officer of the Chhattisgarh police; one hand holds the bag open as the other riffles through the bag's contents. “This is what we have taken,” says a voice in Hindi.

When the police leave the house of Binayak Sen, an award-winning physician and human rights activist, and walk the down the stairs, one can still see the same brown bag, unsealed and swinging from the right hand of a policeman.

This footage was shot with the permission of a District Magistrate when Dr. Sen's house was searched by the police on May 19, 2005. On Christmas eve this year, Dr. Sen, Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha and alleged Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal were convicted of supporting the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the criminal conspiracy to commit sedition.

They were sentenced to life imprisonment by Justice B.P. Verma of the Raipur Sessions Court.

The police claim that Mr. Guha was arrested on May 6, 2007, and found to be in possession of banned literature and three handwritten letters. The case revolves around these letters, written in jail by Mr. Sanyal and passed on to Mr. Guha via Dr. Sen.

Dr. Sen had visited Mr. Sanyal in jail in his capacity as president of the Chhattisgarh chapter of the People's Union for Civil Liberties.

However, the prosecution was unable to explain how the letters were passed on. Jailers from the Raipur jail testified that the two men were never left alone and that no letters could have been exchanged.

Hence, the prosecution's entire case rested on documents seized from Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha. Documents that the defence says were planted on the two men.

In court, defence lawyer Surinder Singh said the police claimed that all evidence was sealed and deposited in a safe house while the video clearly shows otherwise. He noted that the police claim that all documents were signed by Dr. Sen, investigating officer B.B. Rajpoot and two independent witnesses.

Further, an unsigned letter, labelled Article 37 (A-37) — allegedly seized from Dr. Sen's house — and purportedly written by a CPI (Maoist) member, did not carry either Dr. Sen's, or Mr. Rajpoot's signatures but was mysteriously signed by both witnesses.

Mr. Singh said: “Our copies [of the seized documents] only bear the signatures of Dr. Sen and Mr. Rajpoot, and have not been signed by the witnesses. Yet, documents submitted in court have all four signatures. This suggests that witnesses did not sign the documents at the time they were seized, but at a later stage after the documents were supposedly sealed.”

Justice Verma did not allow the video to be screened in his courtroom, and nor is it mentioned in his exhaustive 91-page judgment written in Hindi. Also unremarked upon is defence lawyer S.K. Farhan's point that none of the letters supposedly seized from Mr. Guha's possession carry his signature. Also, Mr. Guha's arrest memo carries no mention of the seized documents.

On the matter of A-37, Justice Verma supports the police version of events.

Corrections and Clarifications

The news report, “Unscreened footage throws light on Binayak Sen case” (December 26, 2010), said Dr. Sen was arrested on May 19, 2005. It should read as May 19, 2007.

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