Wednesday, May 14, 2008

International campaign gains momentum

Hasan Suroor

LONDON: The international campaign in support of Binayak Sen, human rights activist languishing in Chhattisgarh for allegedly helping the banned Maoist rebel movement in the State, gained momentum on Tuesday with a protest outside the Indian High Commission here by a group of rights activists and doctors on the first anniversary of his incarceration.
Letter to Pratibha

Protesters, among whom were several former colleagues of Dr. Sen, raised slogans demanding his release to enable him to travel to the U.S. to receive the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in Washington on May 29.

In a letter to President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Governor and the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, they said Dr. Sen was an internationally respected paediatrician who had devoted his life to serving the poorest, especially mine workers and indigenous tribes, in the State.

“Dr. Sen’s role as national vice-president and state secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties has required him to speak out in defence of human rights. Dr. Sen has uncovered human rights violations by the state and other armed groups. He has highlighted starvation deaths, dysentery epidemics, conditions of undertrial prisoners, custodial deaths and extra judicial killings. Dr. Sen has also worked on the issues of right to food, work, health and education. Blaming him for activities in defence of human rights is like blaming a lawyer for activities in defence of a client,” the letter said calling for his release on humanitarian grounds.

The signatories included representatives of the South Asia Solidarity Group, the U.K. branch of the Vellore Alumni Association, the South Asian Alliance and the 1857 Committee.

The protest came as a group of British MPs signed an early-day Commons’ motion drawing their government’s attention to Dr. Sen’s case.

Meanwhile, the organisers of Tuesday’s protest accused the BJP government in Chhattisgarh of levelling politically motivated charges against Dr. Sen.

In a statement, they said: “The ‘evidence’ they present for this is that he had met a senior Maoist leader many times in the preceding year. But all these meetings in fact took place when Binayak Sen, as the vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, visited the 70-year-old leader in the Raipur Central Jail to provide medical and legal assistance, with the permission of the jail authorities and under their close supervision! Binayak Sen’s real ‘crime’ is to stand by the poor and dispossessed and to speak out about the violence they are facing in Chhattisgarh.”

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