To the shock and outrage of human rights organisations across the world, activist Binayak Sen was on Friday held guilty by a sessions court here of sedition, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Two other accused, Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal and a Kolkata-based tendu leaf trader, Piyush Guha, were also convicted for the same offence and given the same sentence.
Justice BP Verma, reading out the verdict in a jam-packed court, however, acquitted the three of the charge of waging war against the state.
The latter attracts the death sentence while the maximum punishment for sedition-in Sen's case, passing on messages and information to the Maoists-is life imprisonment.
While waging war (or taking up a direct role in armed struggle) against the government attracts death sentence, the maximum punishment for 'sedition', in this case, colluding with Maoists, is life imprisonment.
Hashim Khan, counsel for Sen, told HT: "We will appeal against the verdict." Sen, 58, a paediatrician, is associated with the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and has been working in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh since 1978.
Internationally lauded, he is a recipient of the Paul Harrison award for a lifetime of service to the rural poor, and the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights.
He was arrested in 2007 in Bilaspur. An international outcry against his arrest followed. The Supreme Court released Sen on bail in May 2009.
Soon after the verdict was pronounced and the Raipur police whisked away Sen, his wife Elina said, "I only hope they (the police) don't murder him now."
She said there was not even "a single circumstantial evidence proved against Dr Sen".
Special public prosecutor TC Pandiya defended the verdict, saying links between the three and the Maoists were established beyond any doubt.
Sanyal, 67, was arrested in Khammam in Andhra Pradesh in 2006 for allegedly masterminding the attack on former Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu in 2003 and the 2005 jailbreak at Jehanabad in Bihar.
The charge against Guha, 35, was that he was involved in setting up the Maoists' urban network and carrying messages to those who supported left-wing extremists in Chhattisgarh.