Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Veteran nonviolent activitist sentenced to life in India

Binayak Sen
Dr. Binayak Sen, national Vice-President and Secretary General in Chhattisgarh of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, a nonviolent human rights organization, was declared guilty of sedition by a state court and sentenced to life imprisonment on December 24. 

He was previously imprisoned, at times in solitary confinement (which amounts to torture) but was eventually released on bail in May 2009, only to be arrested again now after his conviction. All the evidence in this case is clearly ideological or circumstantial (owning materials of arguable revolutionary content and communicating with a Maoist prisoner with government authorization), however the anti-terrorist laws have been applied, what means that people can be sentenced on nearly anything. 

Upon his first arrest in 2007 there was a campaign for his liberation, supported by many Nobel laureates, among others. Indian physicians established hospitals for the poor upon his example as a reaction as well. This campaign was surely what allowed him to be released on bail last year. 

There is an online petition for his release that you can sign HERE


  1. Not sure what 'sedition' mean in the constitution. As far as I know, the law is a colonial hangover. In my opinion,support to Naxalism cannot be considered as sedition. I suppose, the communist idea of macro country goes very well with the idea of India.

  2. As far as I know, sedition means rebellion against the state, akin to treason but not necessarily because of support of foreign powers (it can be for internal reasons). Persecution on grounds of sedition are typically authoritarian unless the rebellion is armed sedition I guess.

    Even in the case of armed rebellion, one should look at the causes of discontent, rather than just the symptom of violent uprising, I understand. But it is not the case here.

    Here we have, it seems to me, a nonviolent human rights activist who is being persecuted for a "crime" of opinion and free thought.

    And regardless of the Pakistan connection the issue of Kashmir may have, it is the same case with A. Roy. Both are merely exerting their right to free speech and opinion. Because one can also have a dissident opinion on foreign policy, right?

    IMO, what is apparent here is the lack of will by the Indian elites (political or otherwise) to confront major issues that affect the country: one is that of Kashmir and the will and rights of Kashmiris, the other, probably more important and also addressed by Roy in her prime quality compromised journalistic work, is that of social injustice (of which the Maoist uprising is a symptom and, to some, a promise of a cure).

    I guess that a well established, rather powerful state can allow a "minority" issue to linger for decades or even centuries, because it does not affect most of the country. This is the case of Ireland or the Basque Country, among others. The conflict won't probably be extinguished but as long as the central state remains solid and committed to keep the secessionist area under its boot, the separatists can hardly succeed.

    But a much more serious threat is when the rebellion affects the whole country in form of class struggle (or similarly widespread discontent). This is not a challenge against the state as such, as you say well, but to the elites that control it, to the status quo.

    By attacking people who are providing some kind of "moral support" or critical understanding to the class revolt, and this is also the case of Roy, even if the charges against her gravitate around Kashmir, they are simply extending the repression in order to make sure that nothing of importance is changed in the socio-economic aspect, in the structure of power within the state of India.

    However, they may be throwing stones against their own glass roof, because this is the kind of repressive activity that raises awareness. It would have been much more intelligent from the establishment to launch a well planned smear campaign, so these persecuted people would not be able to gather support and be perceived so easily as victims of political repression, as prisoners of conscience, as no doubt they will be listed in A.I. memorandums (for whatever they are worth).


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