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Mounting outrage against Binayak conviction

Vidya Subrahmaniam

“Conviction sets a dangerous trend for judiciary”

It has ominous undertones: All-India Milli Council

New Delhi: Three days after a Chhatisgarh court convicted Binayak Sen of treason and sedition, the sense of disbelief seems to be growing, with more and more members of the civil society joining in to protest the judgment and urging fellow citizens to start a campaign for the release of the paediatrician and civil rights activist.

The voices were unanimous in underlining the ironic distortions in the justice system — the use of archaic laws and police versions to punish the poor at a time the country was witness to the unprecedented criminality of the powerful.

The first to get off the ground on Monday was the Indian Community Activists Network (ICAN), an umbrella group comprising over 25 pro-democracy organisations across the country. Expressing its outrage at the verdict, ICAN said the life sentence handed out to Dr. Sen was a “miscarriage of justice” at one level and “emblematic of gross inequity and usurpation of democracy” at another. “Treason and sedition are not merely legal issues to be decided in the narrow confines of a legal system, even if that weren't so compromised… Even conceding the most damning accusations against him, how has he damaged the Indian State? Where is the statement of intent? Compare this with the enormous, plainly visible, and egregious assaults on the national interest in the form of various scams that are going largely unexamined, and, given the history, are likely to go entirely unpunished if not actually rewarded!”

The signatories included Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan; Trilochan Shastry of the Association for Democratic Reform; H. Sudarshan of Karuna Trust, Karnataka; Ravi Chopra of People's Science Institute, Uttarakhand; Arvind Kejriwal of Parivartan; Madhu Kishware of Manushi Sanghathan; S.P. Shukla of the Indian Social Forum, Pune; Mamta Jaitley of Vividha Features, Rajasthan; Yogesh Shastri of Jeevan Vidya, Chhatisgarh; T.K. Ramkumar of Rejuvenate India Movement, Tamil Nadu; and Mousumi Gogoi of Karuna Trust, Arunachal Pradesh.

“Attack on dissent”

The signatories said: “The whole saga demonstrates amply how the various arms of the state machinery routinely act in unconstitutional and illegal ways using unsanctioned power through unseen channels to crush democratic voices that are seen as impediments to their personal or policy objectives.” The umbrella network called upon citizens to come together regardless of ideology and to view the judgment as “an attack on dissent and an attempt to snuff out the democratic space.”

Mumbai-based Sabrang said it intended to start a signature campaign to secure Dr. Sen's release. Sabrang members Alaque Padamsee, Anil Dharker, Rahul Bose and Teesta Setalvad said: “The judgment is appalling, upholding as it does charges of sedition against a man who struggled for the rights of India's adivasis and one who moreover opted for a life among the voiceless… the conviction sets a dangerous trend for India's judiciary.”

Further, “such signals from our courts are directly aimed at human rights defenders, who tirelessly expose state terror [and] rights violations by counter terrorism forces like Salva Judum and the Central and state paramilitary, while espousing the path of non violence.

“The verdict sends a warning signal to all those who struggle for the civil liberties and human rights of the disaffected and, coming as it does from a court, plunges human rights preservation and protection in the country to an all-time low. It is time for all who stand for equality and freedom to raise our voices against the brute injustice meted out to Dr Binayak Sen.”

All-India Milli Council general secretary Mohammad Manzoor Alam was worried that the verdict could be the start of “the degeneration of our democracy into a police state… the sentencing had ominous undertones as it sets great store by the police version, even ignoring the Supreme Court's understanding and interpretation of the outdated sedition law made by the British to oppress Indians.”

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