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No Country for Good Men

Samar, Commentary, S.P. Arun Posted: Jun 02, 2008

Many governments grant themselves extra-judicial powers to deal with insurgency. But all too often, this power is used indiscriminately to silence any dissent. The imprisonment of renowned human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen is a classic example. On May 14 this year, he will complete one year without trial at the Raipur central jail in Chattisgarh.

Dr. Binayak Sen has worked for thirty years with the poorest adivasis (tribals) in Chhattisgarh. Through the unique Shaheed Hospital, the community-driven work of Rupantar and his broader involvement with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan - the Indian circle of the People's Health Movement, Dr. Sen has made healthcare available to people ignored by government and private systems.

As the area secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Dr. Sen uncovered many human rights violations by the state and other armed groups. He has highlighted starvation deaths, dysentery epidemics, poor conditions of under trial prisoners, custodial deaths and extra judicial killings. Dr. Sen has also worked on the issues of right to food, work, health and education. None of this bothered the government until he began criticizing the Salwa Judum - a private militia movement armed by the Chhattisgarh government to combat Maoist insurgency. Salwa Judum has contributed to a spiraling increase in violence and the displacement of thousands of tribals. Even the Supreme Court has issued a strong disapproval of the Salwa Judum, citing concerns similar to those raised by Dr. Sen.

On May 14, 2007, Dr. Sen was arrested in Raipur under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 2004 (UAPA) on charges of sedition, conspiracy to wage war against the state and conspiracy to commit other offences. Denied bail and with many delays and restrictions of due process, the first phase of his trial finally took place, almost a year later, from April 30 to May 3, 2008. During the trial, the state prosecutor's witnesses fell apart under cross-examination and completely undermined the state's case so much that the prosecutor himself asked to have his own witnesses declared as hostile. The judge's decision is not known yet, but Binayak remains in jail. The next phase of the trial is expected to begin in late June.

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