As a crush of lawyers, reporters and policemen awaited the sentencing of Dr. Binayak Sen, Pijush Guha, and Narayan Sanyal on the ground floor of the Raipur Sessions Court, an almost identical case was under way in another courtroom on the first floor of the same building.
Asit Kumar Sen Gupta stood before Justice O.P. Gupta, awaiting his sentence for criminal conspiracy to commit sedition and wage war against the Government of India. He had been arrested in January 2008 and, like Dr. Sen, charged with hatching a conspiracy to aid the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) in its goal of overthrowing the Indian State.
Like Dr. Sen, Mr. Sen Gupta was also found guilty under section 124 (a) to commit sedition. Mr. Sen Gupta avoided the charge of criminal conspiracy, but was sentenced to three years for sedition and another eight years under Section 39 (2) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act; Dr. Sen and his co-accused were sentenced to life imprisonment for a conspiracy to commit sedition on the basis of three letters purportedly written by Mr. Sanyal and handed over to Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha.
Dr. Sen is a celebrated physician and human rights activist who highlighted police and Maoist atrocities in the running battle between Indian security forces and the guerrilla army of the CPI (Maoist). His conviction, and the severity of his sentence, has shocked social activists and senior advocates.
Dr. Sen's trial has been dogged by allegations that the Chhattisgarh police planted vital evidence, schooled witnesses and manufactured testimonies. A number of key witnesses also turned hostile in court.
“Convicting Dr. Sen shows that sections of the judiciary are willing to act as instruments of a State's policy to silence dissent,” said senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, “This will undermine the people's faith in the lower sections of the judiciary.”
“A couple of years for the bosses of Union Carbide and a life sentence for Binayak Sen,” said writer and activist Arundhati Roy, referring to the sentence handed down to those accused in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984.
“After producing Marx's Das Kapital and a letter from the Indian Social Institute as evidence against him, the crisis of Indian democracy does not get more dangerous than this,” Ms. Roy said, referring to the quality of the evidence marshalled by the police in their case against Dr. Sen.
“Where is the crime? Where is the deterrence?” asked counter-terrorism expert Dr. Ajai Sahni when asked if the verdict would serve any purpose in the government's battle against the CPI (Maoist). “This is a perversion of the investigative process and an index of the incompetence of the Chhattisgarh police,” he said.
“It is scandalous to say that he [Dr. Sen] was working against the interest of the country,” said Justice Rajinder Sachar, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court and member of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
“The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act., under which he has been convicted, is unconstitutional. PUCL will challenge his conviction and the Act.”