Terming Binayak Sen a ‘prisoner of conscience,' Ramesh Gopalakrishnan of Amnesty International said that the recent conviction of the human rights activist and public health specialist under sedition charges by a Raipur Sessions Court in Chhattisgarh set a dangerous precedent.

“The verdict allows for a sweeping interpretation of criminal intent. Activists in India are arrested all the time on such charges, which give wide, arbitrary powers to police,” Mr. Gopalakrishnan said. He was speaking at a protest meeting ‘Free Binayak Sen' organised here on Wednesday.

Raising concerns about the larger issue of a number of activists being arrested under punitive charges across central India for speaking out against the State, Mr. Gopalakrishnan said that the “crackdown” was directly related to the resource grab that was going on in the thickly forested tribal districts of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. “This is a serious battle in the history of contemporary India.”

Geeta Ramaseshan, senior advocate, said that sedition had always been a problematic provision. “Such provisions that violate the fundamental right of free speech must be brought into the public domain and must be questioned. What makes it worse is a set of ‘special laws' that many States have enacted in the name of fighting insurgency. A large part of India is currently under a silent Emergency,” she added.President of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (Tamil Nadu) V.Suresh said that the fight for Dr. Sen's release was symbolic.

“The real fight is for democratic rights. A large number of activists still languish in prison,” Mr. Suresh said.

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