At fifteen minutes past two in the afternoon on February 10, Justice T.P. Sharma of the Chhattisgarh High Court signed his 34 page judgment and said, “Application dismissed,” thereby denying the bail application filed by award-winning activist and paediatrician Binayak Sen.
On December 24 last year, a Raipur Sessions court convicted Dr. Sen, businessman Pijush Guha and alleged Maoist Narayan Sanyal of conspiring to commit sedition and sentenced all three to life imprisonment.
Last week in Bilaspur, Justices T.P. Sharma and R.L. Jhanwar held that the legal sustainability of the case against Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha and the “nature and gravity” of the offence of sedition were sufficient grounds to deny the men bail.
Appearing for the prosecution, Additional Advocate General Kishore Bhaduri had argued that the appellants had “crossed the limits of criticism.”
The judges appear to have applied two inter-related arguments to deduce that Dr. Sen maintained close connections with cadres of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and was part of a conspiracy to incite disaffection against the government as established by law.
The first argument relies heavily on the oral testimonies of policemen who claimed that Dr. Sen had maintained close contact with two individuals named “Shankar Singh” and “Amita Srivastav”, who were “hardcore naxalites”. During the trial, defence lawyer Surinder Singh said that the Chhattisgarh police had admitted that till date they were unaware of the whereabouts of the two individuals and were yet to produce any evidence linking them to any particular crime.
In the second part of the judgment, the Justices examined the nature and content of the documents seized by the police when they searched Dr. Sen’s house in 2007. Paragraph 48 describes articles A-19 and A-36 (recovered from the house) as “documents prepared to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law and to bring into hatred towards the Government established by law. (sic)”
A-19 is a copy of the November 2004 issue of People’s March, a registered magazine that was freely available for Rs. 5 at the time, but subsequently proscribed in February 2008. In 2009, the Press Council of India lifted the ban on the magazine and allowed its publication and distribution.
A-36 is a pamphlet calling for resistance against the “Salwa Judum” — a controversial state supported anti-Maoist program. In his written statement before the trial court, Dr. Sen said that the pamphlet was available for distribution at a seminar on the Salwa Judum organized by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Peace and Conflict Resolution in 2007 in Delhi.
Other documents obtained from Dr. Sen’s house include a postcard written by alleged Maoist Narayan Sanyal from Raipur Central Jail, and sent with the permission and knowledge of the jail authorities, a letter by Bilaspur Jail inmate Madan Lal Barkhade, complaining about jail conditions and articles with the following titles: “Women’s Rights in Andhra Pradesh and Naxalite Groups”, “Towards Building an Anti-LIS Imperialist Front”, “Globalization and Glamourization of the Indian Service Sector”. The trove of documents also includes an unsigned letter, allegedly written by the Maoists, that the defence says was planted amongst the evidence, newspaper cuttings relating to Maoist incidents, and several thousand pages of printouts from Dr. Sen’s computer.
The judgment notes “Hard copy of the computer record…reveals the names of Shankar Singh, Malti @ K.S. Priya and Praful Jha against whom cases like aforesaid nature are pending (sic).”
The Justices also appear to have taken exception to Dr. Sen’s role as Chhattisgarh Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). In paragraph 47, the Justices write “on different occasions when armed forces have committed atrocities, PUCL has investigated the matter and has demanded from the Government for withdrawal of armed forces and regularization of normal life, but no demand is made….. to the said groups who have committed mass killings of members of armed force.”
On April 7 2010, PUCL issued a press statement strongly condemning the April 6 killing of 76 paramilitary soldiers by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district, and appealed to the Central and State Government and the CPI (Maoist) to “eschew violence and engage in constructive dialogue.”
Dr. Sen’s lawyers are expected to press for bail at the Supreme Court even as the Bilaspur High Court shall continue to hear his appeal against conviction.