"I know in my heart that I never betrayed the people of this country"

At 7 O'clock on a sultry Monday evening, human rights activist and paediatrician Binayak Sen walked out of the Raipur Central Jail and into the arms of his daughters Aparajita and Pranhita. “I know in my heart that I never betrayed the people of this country,” Dr. Sen said soon after he was released on bail, pursuant to a March 15 order of the Supreme Court.

On December 24 last, a Raipur district and sessions court sentenced Dr. Sen, Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha and alleged Maoist activist Narayan Sanyal to life imprisonment on the charges of conspiring to commit sedition and aiding the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Dr. Sen was released on a personal bail bond of Rs.50,000, a surety for Rs.50,000 and on the condition that he surrender his passport and attend court whenever summoned.

At a news conference at his residence in Raipur later, Dr. Sen thanked the broad alliance of national and international activists who had campaigned for his release. Following his conviction, activists from across the country and 40 Nobel laureates issued statements of solidarity and support. “I am not alone, we are all in this together,” Dr. Sen said.

In March this year, Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha had appealed against their conviction and moved the Chhattisgarh High Court for bail. While the High Court agreed to re-examine the sentence, Justices T.P. Sharma and R.L. Jhanwar refused to grant bail. Dr. Sen was finally released after his defence filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court.

Dr. Sen was arrested in May 2007 on the suspicion that he had served as a courier for Narayan Sanyal. Prison records indicate that Dr. Sen had visited Mr. Sanyal several times in the Raipur jail, where Mr. Sanyal was lodged.

Dr. Sen maintained that he had made the visits in his capacity as a doctor and the Chhattisgarh secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties.

In his interaction with the media, Dr. Sen reflected on the “hundreds of prisoners fighting charges of sedition in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere in the country.” Pointing to a recent statement in which Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily spoke of re-examining the sedition law, Dr. Sen said: “I hope we can break out of this colonial framework and work towards a free citizenry in a free country.”

Reiterating his support for a peaceful and lawful solution to the Maoist insurgency in central India, Dr. Sen called for dialogue between all parties in the conflict.