A pair of burly hands affixes several lengths of masking tape on open brown bag. Then the same hands are shown as those of a Chhattisgarh police officer; one hand holds the bag open as the other riffles through the contents. “This is what we have taken,” says a voice in Hindi.
As the police leave the house of Binayak Sen, award-winning physician and human rights activist, and walk down the stairs, one can still see the same bag, unsealed and swinging from the right hand of a policeman.
This footage was shot with the permission of a District Magistrate when Dr. Sen's house was searched on May 19, 2007. On Christmas Eve this year, Dr. Sen, Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha and the alleged Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal were convicted of supporting the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and criminal conspiracy to commit sedition. They were sentenced to life imprisonment by B.P. Verma of the Raipur Sessions Court.
The police claim that Mr. Guha was arrested on May 6, 2007, and found to be in possession of banned literature and three handwritten letters. The case revolves round these letters, written in the Raipur jail by Mr. Sanyal and passed on to Mr. Guha through Dr. Sen.
Dr. Sen had visited Mr. Sanyal in jail in his capacity as president of the Chhattisgarh chapter of the People's Union for Civil Liberties. However, the prosecution was unable to explain how the letters changed hands. Jailers testified that the two men were never left alone and that no letter could have been passed on. Hence, the entire prosecution case rested on documents seized from Dr. Sen and Mr. Guha. Documents that defence says were planted on the two men.
Defence lawyer Surinder Singh pointed out that while the police claimed that all evidence was sealed and deposited in a safe house, the video clearly shows otherwise. He noted that the police claim that all documents were signed by Dr. Sen, investigating officer B.B. Rajpoot and two independent witnesses.
Further, an unsigned letter, labelled Article 37 (A-37) — allegedly seized from Dr. Sen's house — and purportedly written by a CPI (Maoist) member — did not carry the signature of either Dr. Sen or Mr. Rajpoot but was mysteriously signed by both witnesses.
Mr. Singh said: “Our copies [of the seized documents] only bear the signatures of Dr. Sen and Mr. Rajpoot, and have not been signed by the witnesses. Yet, the documents submitted in court have all four signatures. This suggests that the witnesses did not sign the documents at the time they were seized, but signed them at a later stage after the documents were supposedly sealed.”
Justice Verma did not allow the video to be screened in his courtroom, nor has it been mentioned in his 91-page judgment, written in Hindi. Also unremarked is defence lawyer S.K. Farhan's point that none of the letters supposedly seized from Mr. Guha's possession carries his signature. Moreover, Mr. Guha's arrest memo carries no mention of the seized documents.
On the matter of A-37, Mr. Verma supports the police version of events. In paragraph 46 of the judgment, he writes: “It has been suggested that A-37 was not seized from Dr. Sen's house, however this has been contradicted by the witnesses, so it appears that A-37 was seized from Dr. Sen's house. It is proved from the testimonies of B.S. Jagrit, Mr. Rajpoot and Shyamsunder Rao that articles A-19 to A-46 were seized from Dr. Sen's house.” While Mr. Jagrit and Mr. Rajpoot are both policemen, Mr. Rao is one of the witnesses whose signatures were missing from police copies of the seized documents.
Commenting on the witness statements, Mr. Verma writes in paragraph 104: “While the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses certainly have minor absences and contradictions, they are not of a material nature and cannot be used to label the prosecution's case suspicious, nor can the prosecution's witnesses be considered untrustworthy.”
This article was corrected for a factual error on December 29, 2010
Keywords: Binayak Sen