A life sentence handed down against Dr Binayak Sen by a court in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh on 24 December 2010, violates international fair trial standards and is likely to enflame tensions in the conflict-affected area, Amnesty International has said.
Dr Binyak Sen is a pioneer of health care to marginalised and indigenous communities in Chhattisgarh, where the state police and armed Maoists have been engaged in clashes over the last seven years. He has reported on 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 armed Maoists.
Dr Sen was detained without proper charges for seven months, denied bail, and kept in solitary confinement for three weeks. Many of the charges against him stem from laws that contravene international standards. Repeated delays in the conduct of his trial have cast doubts about its fairness.
He was convicted of sedition and conspiracy under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act (2005) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (2004). He was immediately taken into custody after the announcement of the sentence, having been out on bail since May 2009.
Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi said: "This sentence will seriously intimidate other human rights defenders who would provide a peaceful outlet for the people's grievances, especially for the indigenous Adivasi population.
"Dr Sen, who is considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, was convicted under laws that are impermissibly vague and fall well short of international standards for criminal prosecution. "Instead of persecuting Dr Sen, authorities in Chhattisgarh should be acting to protect the people of the region from the abuses committed by the Maoists, as well as state security forces and militias.
"State and federal authorities in India should immediately drop these politically-motivated charges against Dr Sen and release him.”
India's central government has acknowledged that the intensifying armed conflict with the Maoists in central India is a reflection of serious inequities and a history of human rights violations in the area. Amnesty believes that the charges against Dr Sen are baseless and politically-motivated. The organisation has repeatedly called on the Indian authorities to drop all the charges against Dr Sen.