Scottish campaigners call for release of Binayak Sen

Protestors in Edinburgh

Protestors in Edinburgh.
Photo - Ivon Bartholomew



Binayak Sen in police vehicle

Dr Binayak Sen
Photo - Shailendra Pandey / Tehelka

Doctors, academics and human rights campaigners in Scotland gathered on Thursday 29 May 2008 outside St. John's Church, Edinburgh for a vigil demanding the immediate release of award-winning renowned doctor and human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen. On that day, Dr Sen was due to receive the Jonathan Mann Award For Global Health And Human Rights but cannot due to his illegal detention. Following the vigil, campaigners presented a letter to the Indian Consul in Edinburgh.

Dr. Sen's arrest has been condemned worldwide by human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and PUCL, 22 British MPs who signed an Early Day Motion about the case; several Nobel laureates, well-known public health campaigner Dr Wendy Savage, Noam Chomsky, Aruna Roy, and Amartya Sen. Iain Gray MSP (Labour), Robin Harper MSP (Green), Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP (SNP) and Bill Wilson MSP (SNP) have also given their support to the call for the release of Dr Sen.

Dr. Sen was arrested after helping to expose involvement by the police in the unlawful killing of 12 tribal people. He had been a vocal opponent of the Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored militia which has massacred local people and forced thousands to flee from their homes. Behind the violence and repression is the government's aim of displacing the poor from their land in order to hand over huge tracts of mineral-rich Chhattisgarh to transnational steel, aluminium and mining companies. Over 30 'Memoranda of Understanding' (MOUs) had already been signed with these companies.


The arrests of Dr. Sen and other Civil Liberties and Human Right activists in the last year has brought to the fore the ugly face of Indian democracy - repressive laws and state machinery that continue to be used to suppress political dissent. The right-wing Hindu Fundamentalist BJP government of Chhattisgarh claims that Binayak Sen has 'aided' banned Maoist groups who are active in the region. 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, one of the leading and most widely respected Human Rights groups in India visited the 70 year old leader in Raipur Central Jail to provide medical and legal assistance, with the permission of the jail authorities and under their close supervision!

On December 10 2007 - Human Rights Day - Binayak Sen's application for bail was rejected by the Supreme Court. The Indian government and the Chhattisgarh state government are determined to silence Dr Sen.

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.

The protest was supported by:Amnesty International (Scotland), Scotland against Criminalising Communities (SACC), Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre, South Asia Solidarity Group, CMC Vellore Alumni Association - UK Branch, Dr Wendy Savage MBBCh FRCOG MSc (Public Health) Hon DSc, Campaigner on Public Health, South Asian Alliance, Peace and Human Rights Trust, The 1857 Committee, Indian Workers Association (GB), Birmingham Anti-SEZ Campaign, International League of People's Struggles, Campaign against Forced Displacement, DEEP - Defenders of the Environment and Ecology of Panjab, Hillingdon Asian Women's Communication Service, Campaign Against Crininalising Communities (CAMPACC), Peace in Kurdistan Campaign.

Letter presented to the Indian Consul, Einburgh, 29 May 2008
SCOTTISH SUPPORT FOR THE RELEASE OF INDIAN PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERT DR BINAYAK SEN

To: Honourable Consul General of India
Subject: Liberty of Dr. Binayak Sen, renowned pediatrician and human rights defender, and others falsely implicated under draconian state laws

Respected Sir,

This letter requests your office to congratulate Dr. Binayak Sen on his achievements in the field of health and human rights and seeks your support in demanding his immediate release. Dr. Sen, recipient of the prestigious Jonathan Mann award for Global Health and Human Rights, has been imprisoned for over a year at Raipur for activities in defence of the rights and liberties of tribal people in Chhattisgarh.

Dr Binayak Sen is a renowned paediatrician and health and human rights activist who left his academic appointment at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi to work with some of the poorest and vulnerable people in the world. As a doctor, Binayak Sen is widely respected for his unshakable commitment to providing health care to poor adivasi or 'tribal' communities. He was instrumental in setting up the cooperative Shaheed hospital for mine workers in Dalli Rajhara, and has campaigned tirelessly against violations of human rights of the poor. His work has shown that the Right to Health and other Human Rights and Civil Liberties are inextricable.

Dr. Sen has been active and effective in defending the liberties of the disadvantaged, especially through the Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). In the capacity of General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh PUCL, he helped organize fact finding campaigns into human rights violations in the state including custodial deaths, fake encounters, hunger deaths, dysentery epidemics and malnutrition. In recent times, he has been a vocal opponent of the large scale oppression by the state sponsored militia Salwa Judum movement in Chhattisgarh that has massacred local people and forced thousands to flee from their homes.

On May 14, 2007, Dr. Sen was arrested under trumped up charges of 'aiding' activities of maoist groups and has been imprisoned without trial ever since. His arrest has been condemned worldwide by human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and PUCL, 22 British MPs who signed an Early Day Motion about the case, several Nobel laureates, well-known public health campaigner Dr Wendy Savage, distinguished Members of Scottish Parliament : Iain Gray, Robin Harper and Shirley-Anne Somerville, eminent persons like Noam Chomsky, Aruna Roy, Amartya Sen among others.

Several doctors, academics and human rights campaigners in Scotland gathered on Thursday 29 May 2008, to strengthen international voices demanding immediate release of this noble doctor. On the same day, Dr Sen was due to receive the Jonathan Mann Award For Global Health And Human Rights but cannot due to his illegal detention.

Dr. Sen was selected for the Jonathan Mann honour by an international jury of public healthexperts on the basis of his years of service in poor and tribal communities in India, his effective leadership in establishing self-sustaining health care services where none existed, and his unwavering commitment to civil liberties and human rights. His long history of selfless service and this Award's recognition are commendations that we hope will be celebrated by India's leaders and citizens. - Dr. Nils Dulaire (president and chief executive officer of the Global Health Council) in a letter to the President of India. It is a travesty of any democracy that a recipient of such a prestigious award is not at liberty to receive it!However, Dr. Sen is not alone! The alliance of right wing fundamentalist governments, such as that in Chhattisgarh, with the project of neo-liberal expansion has given rise to the systematic use of draconian acts to suppress political dissent. Among those detained under this Act of 2005 are Chandrakanti Toppo, a 22 year old student from Ambikapur, for allegedly providing hospitality to the 'Maoists' in her house; an electrician from Ambikapur, who has allegedly provided technical assistance to the Maoists; a Doctor whose prescription was said to have been found among the materials seized from the Maoists; free-lance journalist Prafulla Kumar Jha, who has done remarkable work on tribals living in South Chhattisgarh, Asit Kumar Sen, a writer who has many years of editing and publishing experience, two Cloth Merchants for allegedly selling "camouflage coloured" cloth in bulk for uniform! The arrest of Dr. Sen, Ajay TG, a film maker, other Civil Liberties and Human Right activists and even those simply going about their meagre livelihoods, in the last year has brought to fore the ugly face of Indian democracy - the virulent use of repressive laws and state machinery.

It is now more than a year since Dr Binayak Sen's arrest. On December 10 - Human Rights Day - Binayak Sen's application for bail was rejected by the Supreme Court. His trial, which was due to start this month, has been postponed.

In view of the above, we, the undersigned condemn the illegal detention of Dr. Binayak Sen. We urge you to support the demand for:

  1. the unconditional release of Dr. Binayak Sen, Ajay TG and others detained under the black law; prompt, fair and free trial in accordance with human and fundamental rights,
  2. stopping the violations of human rights under the pretext of containing 'naxalism'
  3. protecting and respecting the rights of indigenous people to their land, livelihood, life and health.

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