RAIPUR, India: An Indian doctor was sentenced to life imprisonment on Friday after being convicted of helping Maoist rebels in a case criticised by rights groups and Nobel laureates.
Police had arrested Binayak Sen three years ago on charges of waging war against the state in the central state of Chhattisgarh — the hub of India's widespread Maoist insurgency.
During his two-and-a-half year trial, prosecutors had made the case that the doctor was involved in helping Maoists create an urban network and had acted as a go-between for a Maoist leader and a businessman.
The sessions court judge in the state capital, Raipur, found Sen and two other men guilty of sedition and unlawful activity and handed down life sentences on all three.
Sen wept when the guilty verdict was announced and his lawyer said he would appeal.
Sen, a paediatrician and human rights activist who was freed on bail last year, has always maintained his innocence.
“There is no suggestion of warlike activity anywhere in the judgement copy,” he complained after the sentence was announced.
His wife Ilina, who was in court with the couple's two daughters, was outraged.
“It's totally irrational. This person who has given his entire life for the poor is now convicted of sedition,” she said.
Sen had been running health clinics and training health workers in Chhattisgarh's tribal communities, among the poorest people in India and whose plight the Maoist rebels claim to champion.
In 2008, the US-based Global Health Council gave Sen the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for health and human rights in recognition of his services to the poor and disadvantaged.
While Sen was still in jail, 22 Nobel laureates sent a letter to the Indian government criticising his imprisonment and asking that he be freed in order to collect the council's award in person.
“We wish to express grave concern that Dr Sen appears to be incarcerated solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental human rights,” the letter said, adding that the internal security laws used to charge Sen “do not comport with international human rights standards”.
Almost 1,000 people, including 577 civilians, died in the first 10 months of 2010 in violence linked to the Maoist revolt across India, according to official data.
The rebel movement, which began in 1967, feeds off land disputes, police brutality and corruption and is strongest in the poorest and most deprived areas of India, many of which are rich in natural resources.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has labelled the insurgency the number one threat to India's internal security.
Channel News Asia