NEW DELHI (AFP) — An Indian state government battling a Maoist insurgency said Saturday it will press ahead with the trial of a prominent doctor accused of rebel links despite a campaign by Nobel laureates to free him.
Binayak Sen, who has been charged under a law criminalising dealings with unlawful organisations, denies accusations that he smuggled out letters from an imprisoned Maoist whom he treated in a central Indian jail.
Chhattisgarh state said it would proceed with the case against the paediatrician and rights activist known for working with India's poor and who has already spent more than a year in prison despite an international outcry.
"Why would the prosecution register a case against him if there was no evidence of his involvement (with the Maoists)," the government's chief spokesman N. Baijendra Kumar told AFP by phone from state capital Raipur.
"We have a judicial system in this country and it will decide what to do," Kumar said.
Earlier this month, 22 Nobel laureates wrote to the Indian government asking it to free 56-year-old Sen, who has been vocal in criticising the state government over tactics it has used in fighting the Maoists.
On Thursday, Sen's wife received the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in Washington on his behalf after Indian judicial authorities refused to let him collect the honour in person.
Sen is accused of taking letters out of prison for an incarcerated Maoist leader whom he visited several times.
The doctor insists he could not have taken out any letters because he was always accompanied by jail personnel when he visited the rebels to administer medical treatment.
Activists say Sen is being punished for criticising the government's backing of a controversial anti-Maoist campaign as well as efforts by the government to get tribal people to leave mineral-rich forest areas to boost development.
The Maoist insurgency grew out of a peasant uprising in 1967 and has spread to half of India's 29 states, with Chhattisgarh the worst hit.
The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of landless farmers and poor tribals in the state, which is one of India's poorest.
"Binayak believes unless we try to change the world it will never change, and he is even now paying the price for following this principle," Sen's wife Ilina said in an acceptance speech at the Jonathan Mann Award ceremony.
"The resources of the world are for us all to share," she said in the speech.
She attributed the violence partly to the Indian government's failure to include hundreds of millions of poor people in the country's economic boom.
These are "basically the problems of non-inclusive growth," Ilina said.
But authorities blame the rebels for a lack of facilities in the region as the Maoists often destroy roads and electricity stations.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and are living in temporary state-run shelters because of fear of Maoist violence, according to officials.
"Around 270 of our policemen have been killed by these rebels. Nobody talks about their human rights violations," said a senior state government official who did not want to be identified.