India court sentences rights activist to life in prison

[JURIST] A judge for the Raipur Sessions Court [GlobaLex backgrounder] of Chhattisgarh state India found human rights activist Binayak Sen [Hindustan Times profile] guilty of aiding rebels and sentenced him to life imprisonment Friday, amid criticism from international rights groups. Sen was convicted under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act of 2005 [text, PDF] and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 2004 [text] for involvement with the Naxalite Maoist rebellion [CFR backgrounder]. Sen, along with two others, was also acquitted of charges of waging war against the state [WP report] by Judge B.P. Verma, both of which are punishable by the death penalty [JURIST news archive]. The two other defendants were Piyush Guha and Narayan Sanyal, whom prosecutors said aided Sen. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called the charges "politically motivated" [press release] and called for them to be immediately dropped, saying

Life in prison is an unusually harsh sentence for anyone, much less for an internationally recognized human rights defender who has never been charged with any act of violence. ... Dr Sen, who is considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, was convicted under laws that are impermissibly vague and fall well short of international standards for criminal prosecution. ... [A]uthorities in Chhattisgarh should be acting to protect the people of the region from the abuses committed by the Maoists, as well as state security forces and militias.
AI also criticized the conduct of the trial, which lasted over three years due to repeated delays. Sen, who had been free on bail since May 2009, was taken into custody [TOI report] following the ruling.

The Indian government has faced both international and domestic criticism for its anti-terror laws. In 2008, AI urged Indian President Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil [official website] to reject [JURIST report] the Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment of 2008 (UAPA) [legislative materials], which allows the government to hold terrorism suspects for up to 180 days. The bill, which came in response to the Mumbai terror attacks [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Proponents of the UAPA have said that there are safeguards in place to make sure that the new law is not misused. In 2006, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) [party website], alleged that the Mumbai train bombings [BBC report] were "a fallout of repealing" [JURIST report] the country's Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) [text], set aside by the incumbent United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2004.

 

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