Drop sedition case against Binayak Sen: Human Rights Watch

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

NEW YORK - The Indian government should drop sedition cases against rights activists Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy, and others, the Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

The international body has also urged the Indian parliament to repeal the colonial-era sedition law, as it has been used by the authorities to “silence peaceful political dissent”.

The authorities have pursued sedition charges against peaceful activists, despite a Supreme Court ruling that prosecution under the sedition law requires incitement to violence, which was not alleged in either case, the group said in a statement.

“Using sedition laws to silence peaceful criticism is the hallmark of an oppressive government,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Supreme Court has long recognised that the sedition law cannot be used for this purpose, and India’s parliament should amend or repeal the law to reflect this.”

Sen, who is also a medical doctor, was convicted Dec 24, 2010 of sedition and conspiracy under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act, 2005, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004.

He was immediately taken into custody, having been out on bail since May 2009. Police had arrested Sen May 14, 2007, accusing him of carrying messages from the jailed Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal. Sen visited Sanyal under the supervision of jail authorities to provide medical and legal aid.

In New Delhi, a court directed the police in November 2010 to investigate sedition charges against the writer and columnist Arundhati Roy. The allegations against Roy and five others stemmed from speeches they made Oct 21 in New Delhi supporting secession of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Considering that India wants the world to celebrate its independent judiciary and active civil society, these actions are both bizarre and regressive,” Ganguly said. “Local authorities don’t need to wait for parliament to pass any changes in the sedition law to act lawfully, but instead should just stop pursuing cases against their critics.”

“Peacefully speaking out against human rights violations is at the heart of free speech, not sedition,” Ganguly said, adding, “The repeated misuse of the sedition law should be brought to a stop.”

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