NEW DELHI -- A group of 22 Nobel laureates has sent a letter to the Indian government criticizing the incarceration of prominent doctor and human-rights worker Binayak Sen and asking that he be released to receive a global health award later this month.
Dr. Sen, 58 years old, has been in prison in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh for the past year, charged with passing notes from a Naxalite leader he was treating in jail to someone outside the prison. Naxalites are Maoist rebels who are waging a war against the Indian government. Dr. Sen has been denied bail. He denies passing notes or committing any crime and says his visits to the jail in Raipur, Chhattisgarh's capital, were constantly supervised by authorities.
Dr. Sen also was an outspoken critic of the state government and its drive to develop the state, one of India's poorest but rich in minerals. Many, including Dr. Sen, have argued that this development is hurting tribal villagers; Dr. Sen has spent the past 25 years working in these impoverished communities.
Dr. Sen was arrested under the state's strict anti-terrorism laws that were introduced in 2005 to strengthen the legal framework for jailing Naxalites.
The U.S.-based Global Health Council last month awarded Dr. Sen its 2008 Jonathan Mann Award for global health and human rights in recognition of his service to poor and indigenous communities in India.
In a letter dated May 9 and addressed to India's president, prime minister and other senior officials, the Nobel laureates' group expressed "grave concern that Dr. Sen appears to be incarcerated solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental human rights."
The group ranged from Francois Jacob, Nobel Prize winner for physiology or medicine in 1965, to Finn E. Kydland, winner for economics in 2004.
A spokesman for the government of Chhattisgarh said the government is very clear on its stand on the state's prosecution of Dr. Sen. "The matter is now under judicial scrutiny, we have presented our facts, and it's up to the independent judiciary of the country to decide upon," the spokesman said, declining further comment. A spokesman for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was unaware of the correspondence.
The state's prosecution of Dr. Sen began recently with the government producing six witnesses among more than 80 it has listed in the case. The trial continues June 25