Protests over the life term awarded to Dr Binayak Sen, 59, by a district and sessions court in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, for sedition are gaining momentum. Civil rights activists rallied in New Delhi on Monday, terming the December 24 ruling a brazen act of injustice meted out to Sen. Mumbai and Kolkata have also seen protests by his supporters.
Rights activists say the evidence used to declare Sen guilty "is ridiculous" and judicial experts believe it would be difficult to uphold the verdict when it is appealed in a higher court.
Point by point
Evidence: Letters said to have been delivered by Sen from jailed Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal to underground Maoists.
Voice: "The letters, even assuming were delivered by Sen, do not contain any matter that is illegal or anti-national. The fact that the evidence has been discredited during the trial points to the quality of evidence based on which the sentence was delivered," Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate in the Supreme Court said.
Evidence: Police point to the 33 times Sen met Sanyal in jail.
Voice: Rights activists said jail authorities were with Sen each time he met Sanyal and under such circumstances they could not have "hatched a conspiracy".
Evidence: Bhushan also questioned the public prosecutor presenting in court an email sent by Sen's wife Ilina Sen to an academician of the Indian Social Institute, which shares ISI initials with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, "as evidence of links with terrorist groups". Other evidence include seizure of Maoist literature from Sen's house.
Voice: "The conviction based on such evidence is nothing but absurd only pointing to how the judge might have wilfully acted as instrument of the State," Bhushan said.
Evidence: Among the questions raised by Sen's supporters, emphasis is on a letter recovered from his house. According to the judgment, police seized this unsigned letter allegedly written by the central committee of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) to Sen.
Sen's supporters said the letter was not mentioned in the seizure list, nor was it signed either by Sen or by the investigating officer who arrested him and prepared the recovery list. The letter also did not form part of the chargesheet received by Sen in the court, his supporters added.
Voice: "The judge, overlooking mandatory procedures, accepted the ridiculous explanation by the police that this particular letter could not be signed by concerned parties since it may have got stuck to other documents and that is why it was seen later," said Raipur-based lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj.
"There can't be a greater nonsensical judgment than this. I am ashamed of belonging to the judiciary... a ridiculous judgment was delivered," former chief justice of the Delhi high court, Rajender Sachar said in Ahmedabad.
Justice AP Shah, another former Delhi high court chief justice, termed the verdict atrocious. "I am still analysing the complete judgment, but my initial reaction is that it is shocking."
'Attempt to silence voice of protest'
Kavita Krishnan, central committee member, CPI(ML), saw the verdict as a "larger State repression to shut out tribals in central Indian parts rich with minerals and important for GDP growth."
"The verdict delivered is purely political, irrespective of facts or evidence. Sen was seen as a symbol against the State and targeted in attempt to silence all of us. If Sen is guilty then we all are," Krishnan said at the protest rally in New Delhi.