A few minutes past one o' clock in the afternoon at the Raipur Sessions Court in Chhattisgarh, the wall of rifle-wielding policemen parted as Dr. Binayak Sen, Pijush Guha and Narayan Sanyal were ushered out of Justice B.P. Verma's courtroom and bundled into a waiting police van.

“The judge simply said guilty,” cried Pranhita Sen as she watched the van carrying her father, a celebrated human rights activist and physician, recede into the distance. By late afternoon, Justice Verma emerged from his chamber to pronounce the three men guilty of criminal conspiracy to commit sedition, under Section 124(a) read with 20 (b) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

In his order (written in Hindi) Justice Verma said that while Mr. Sanyal was a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha aided and supported the CPI (Maoist), including ferrying three letters purportedly written by Mr. Sanyal.

Justice Verma justified the harsh sentence on the ground that “the way that terrorists and Maoist organisations are killing State and Central paramilitary forces and innocent Adivasis and spreading fear, terror and disorder across the country and community implies that this court cannot be generous to the accused and give them the minimum sentence under law.”

Dr. Sen, Mr. Guha and Mr. Sanyal were also convicted under Section 39(2) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, and Sections 8 (1), (2), (3) and (5) of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 which charged them with supporting, aiding and abetting in the activities of a criminal organisation, in this instance the CPI (Maoist), which carry sentences of up to 5 years.

Mr. Sanyal was also found guilty of belonging to a banned organisation under Section 20 of the UAPA, which carries a sentence of 10 years. The sentences shall run concurrently.

The accused were not convicted under Section 121 (a) of the IPC, which relates to waging war against the Government of India.

In May 2007, Dr. Sen was accused of acting as a courier between the alleged Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha, and imprisoned for two years before getting bail on the directions of the Supreme Court.

The prosecution alleged that Mr. Guha was arrested on May 6, 2007 and found to be in possession of Maoist publications and three letters purportedly written in jail by Sanyal, and delivered to him by Dr. Sen. As per prison records, Dr. Sen frequently visited the incarcerated Sanyal in his capacity as president of the Chhattisgarh unit of the People's Union for Civil Liberties. The four-year trial has been dogged by allegations that the police fabricated vital evidence and schooled key witnesses.

“This sentence reveals the true face of the Indian state. [In Chhattisgarh] they would jail Mahatma Gandhi if they could,” Mr. Guha said.

“This judgment makes me feel really sorry for the state of my country,” said Ilina Sen, wife of Dr. Sen. “I hope the Indian judicial system has the strength to negate this judgment.”

Senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan said: “The Supreme Court has held that the charge of sedition can be upheld only if the prosecution proves that the accused attempted to incite violence or public disorder. It is clear that this case doesn't meet that standard.”

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