Vikram Buddhi, a former doctoral student at Purdue University, has been languishing in a US prison for the last 31 months on charges of threatening former president George W Bush and other Republicans. He says he is innocent and has complained to his lawyer of being taunted and beaten by inmates in a Chicago jail.
Somnath Bharti, a New Delhi-based lawyer who is leading a campaign on Buddhi's behalf, said 37-year-old Buddhi has pain in the eyes, an ear infection and rashes on his body.
"Buddhi said he had not been getting proper medical attention. He had boils on his head and said he had been beaten up by some of the inmates who hit his head against a wall," Bharti told IANS in Chicago.
Bharti, an alumnus of IIT Delhi who practises in India's Supreme Court, met Buddhi for three hours at the Metropolitan Correction Center in Chicago. The visit was facilitated by an official at the Indian consulate here. Bharti said he was apparently the first Indian to meet Buddhi after his imprisonment.
On June 25, 2007, a grand jury in a US district court in Indiana held Buddhi guilty of posting messages on a Yahoo chat board threatening the lives of then president George W Bush, vice president Dick Cheney and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Buddhi will be sentenced on November 19.
Bharti said that Buddhi told him that some of the inmates taunted him, saying he was part of the terrorist organisation Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden was his hero.
Buddhi and another inmate share a 6' x 9' cell, complete with an open toilet. The doors of the cell are locked between 10 pm and 6 am. "He can use the jail library for two hours every week and there is a gym where he uses a treadmill thrice a week. He told me the jail food is good, compared to the state jails where he was housed earlier," Bharti said.
Since he was first beaten up, Buddhi has made several written complaints to the jail authorities. "This often resulted in a three month solitary confinement for the attacker. Now, the other inmates seem to be wary of touching him," Bharti said.
Buddhi uses his time studying American law and coaching the other inmates in mathematics. "He now has a good grasp of the legal aspects of his case. He told me that he had two options - filing a motion of a new trial and a motion for 'acquittal of the judgment notwithstanding the jury verdict'. He said, 'I am staying strong and will come out of this ordeal'," Bharti said.
"Buddhi copies pages from law books in the library. It costs him 13 cents a page. He has about $2,000 and he could run out of money soon."
Bharti said Buddhi steadfastly maintained his innocence. "He told me he never wrote those messages," the lawyer told IANS.
Bharti met some Indian American community leaders here to solicit support for Buddhi. "If he is a criminal, hang him. But he should have the due process of law. A universal legal maxim is 'let a thousand criminals go free than let an innocent man suffer'."
Bharti himself is convinced of Buddhi's innocence. "After the US Secret Service interrogated him in January 2006, they gave him back his passport. He could have fled the country if he wanted to. His stand was 'why should I flee when I have done nothing wrong'?"
"The prosecution is supposed to be based on some internet messages on the Yahoo business discussion forum which appeared in December 2005 and January 2006 calling upon the people of Iraq to retaliate against the perceived unjust war against them.
"But in the indictment there is no mention at all of these charges. Moreover the prosecution has failed to establish that the messages were actually posted by Buddhi. The management of Yahoo informed the US Secret Service that the internet protocol (IP) addresses of Purdue University were used to post the messages on the internet.
"The Purdue University official, Scot Ksander, has admitted in the trial that the Address Resolution Protocol Table was 'poisoned' and this strongly suggests that the computer network of Purdue University was hacked," Bharti said.
Criticising the trial on various counts, Bharti said: "My campaign for Vikram Buddhi is basically to create an awareness. It could happen to any one of us." His outrage is also against the Indian government's apathy to the plight of an Indian national.
"The Indian diplomatic mission in Chicago did not do anything about Buddhi," said Iftekhar Shareef, an Indian American businessman and community activist in Chicago.
"Is it not the mission of Indian diplomats to protect Indian citizens? When Indian ambassador Meera Shanker was asked (at the Pan IIT conference in a Chicago suburb) about Buddhi, she said she did not know about the case. I hate to say this, but there seems to be a total failure of the Indian diplomatic mission here," Shareef told IANS.
Shareef said he and other community leaders here were in the process of hiring a private attorney for Buddhi.