Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Nobel appeal to free jailed doctor

In just a little over a fortnight, Dr Binayak Sen will receive the prestigious Jonathan Mann award for his humanitarian work in the field of health. But he has been in jail for a year now and cannot travel to receive the award.

After the Global Health Council, which awarded Sen, appealed to the government to allow him to go to Washington, it is now the turn of 22 Nobel laureates, who have written to the Indian government to permit him to make the trip.

The laureates released a letter written to the Indian President, Prime Minister, Law Minister and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, requesting that Sen be allowed to attend the award ceremony.

The laureates have written: ''We wish to express grave concern that Dr Sen appears to be incarcerated solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental human rights, in contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party.''

Dr Sen is a pediatrician, a gold medallist from CMC Vellore. He has always condemned violence, hardly fits that of a man charged under a terrorist act, but the state has ignored this.

Ironically, Dr Sen had returned himself and surrendered to the police, citing the absurd nature of the charges. Yet, he found himself in a jail cell. Activists link this with his criticism of what has been seen as the state sponsored Salwa Judum.

The international support for a doctor, who has spent the last 30 years working for the tribal of Chattisgarh has been growing.

His supporters argue that his only crime was to meet a Naxal leader in jail and carry money for his legal fees, but that was enough in the eyes of the Chattisgarh government to throw him into jail without bail in solitary confinement for months. The act allows them to keep him without charges for up to seven years.

''There's a growing criminialisation of liberal space, so whoever questions the government pays for it,'' said Arundhati Roy, social activist and author.

But now with this becoming an international issue, perhaps the government will be forced to reconsider his imprisonment finally.

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