The Lancet medical journal has said the conviction of Binayak Sen on charges of sedition showed that precious little had changed in parts of modern India.

It recalled in its latest issue that in April, 2009, The Lancet team had called upon the Indian government to intervene in the case, and ensure that justice be done. “An injustice can still be overturned by India's Supreme Court. If it is not, the already profound damage done to India's credentials as an upholder of human rights will be damaged for years to come,” it said.

“Where the state failed to provide for its poorest citizens, Sen stepped in to give them health care and to champion their rights. His reward: to be convicted under a section of the penal code first introduced by the British to quell political dissent, and later used to convict Mahatma Gandhi. On his conviction, Gandhi argued that the administration of the law had been ‘prostituted consciously or unconsciously for the benefit of the exploiter',” the issue has said.

“On Jan 4, the day this issue of The Lancet went to press, Binayak Sen should have been celebrating his 61st birthday. Instead, found guilty of treason and sedition by a court in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, Sen is facing the bleak prospect of a life behind bars.

“It is an inhuman sentence for a committed humanitarian, whose life before his imprisonment was devoted to improving the health and welfare of some of the most marginalised and poverty-stricken people in India — the Adivasi. This work led to Sen becoming the first Indian recipient of the Jonathan Mann award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2008,” The Lancet has said.

“From the outset the charges against Sen reeked of political motivation — a reaction to Sen's tireless documentation of human rights abuse at the hands of the state. He was accused, on the flimsiest of evidence, of acting as a courier for the imprisoned Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal. The subsequent trial, spanning more than 3 years, was Kafkaesque. Its conclusion is a travesty.

“Reaction to the ruling was swift, with the Indian press unanimous in their criticism of the court's decision. Amnesty International described Sen as a prisoner of conscience, while a statement signed by over 80 prominent academics worldwide decried the sentence as savagery. The Lancet adds its voice to this chorus of condemnation.”

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