A broad coalition of 55 civil society groups from the U.S., U.K., and Canada are coming together to demand the immediate release of the jailed human rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen, who was sentenced to life in prison by a sessions court in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. The coalition demands the repeal of draconian laws which give arbitrary power to the state and infringe on the fundamental rights of free speech, as well as the disbanding of state-backed vigilante groups in Chhattisgarh. Public events will be held in 11 North American cities between 26-30 January 2011.
The coalition consists of civil rights groups such as the Asian Law Alliance, health rights groups such as the People’s Health Movement, anti-war groups such as the ANSWER Coalition and the Boston Mobilization, student groups from Harvard and Berkeley, women’s rights groups such as the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, local peace and justice groups from a number of cities, as well as a large number of South Asian immigrant groups based in U.S., U.K. and Canada. (A complete listing of groups is available below). Over 10,000 signatures from individuals around the world have been collected on petitions asking for the release of Dr. Sen.
Dr Binayak Sen is a renowned pediatrician, public health specialist and the national Vice-President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in India. An activist with a lifelong commitment to community health and human rights, Dr. Sen was awarded the Jonathan Mann Award by Global Health Council in 2008. Dr. Sen earned the ire of the government for opposing Salwa Judum, a private militia movement armed by the Government to combat ‘Maoist insurgency’. Salwa Judum has led to a spiraling increase in violence and has displaced over 100,000 indigenous people over the last 5 years. He was arrested in May 2007 on fabricated charges of sedition, joining dozens of other human rights activists in Indian jails who were also arrested under draconian laws. Even the flimsy evidence of a purported letter that Dr. Sen had allegedly helped carry, and on the basis of which he was convicted, is widely believed to have been planted by the police.
Internationally acclaimed intellectuals including Noam Chomsky, Amartya Sen, Arundhati Roy, and George Galloway have all joined in urging the Indian government to free Binayak Sen and to stop the harassment of human rights activists. Amnesty International slammed the verdict, calling it a ‘mockery of justice’. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, has publicly expressed concern over the situation and the shrinking space for civil society in India. “I am deeply concerned about the branding and stigmatization of human rights defenders, labeled as ‘naxalites (Maoists)’, ‘terrorists’, ‘militants’, ‘insurgents’, or ‘anti-nationalists” Ms. Sekaggya said.
January 30th is the anniversary of the assassination of Gandhi. Several groups across India, North America, and Europe will hold solidarity actions including public demonstrations, vigils, and panel discussions to voice their opposition to the brutal suppression of peaceful democratic dissent currently underway in India. Coordinated actions are planned in 12 cities including Washington DC, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Austin, Dallas, Boston, Amherst, and Seattle in the US; Vancouver in Canada; and London in the UK. Details of individual events are available at www.freebinayaksen.org