Amnesty International on Saturday described human rights activist Binayak Sen as a prisoner of conscience and flayed his conviction by a Chhatisgarh court, saying it violated international standards of fair trial.
The prison term awarded to Sen has evoked outrage among social activists in India, who warned that the politically-motivated charges could enflame tensions in the country's conflict-hit areas. The international rights body appealed to the Indian government to revoke the charges against him and set him free immediately.
Sen, along with Naxal ideologue Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata businessman Piyush Guha, was on Friday found guilty by a district court of sedition and sentenced to life imprisonment for colluding with Maoists to establish a network to fight the state.
Reacting to the verdict that has also shocked many in India, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi said, "Life in prison is an unusually harsh sentence for anyone, much less for an internationally recognised human rights defender who has never been charged with any act of violence".
"Dr Sen, who is considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty, was convicted under laws that are impermissibly vague and fall well short of international standards for criminal prosecution," Sam Zarifi said.
Zarifi said instead of persecuting Sen, the state should focus more on protecting people of the Naxalism- affected region from the abuses of both the Maoists as well as the security forces.
"State and federal authorities in India should immediately drop these politically motivated charges against Dr Sen and release him," he said.
The 58-year-old paediatrician and vice-president of the People's Union of Civil Liberties had been accused by the prosecution of carrying Sanyal's messages and letters to the underground Maoists.
Sen, who has actively worked in the Maoist-affected districts, was one of the first vocal critics of Salwa Judum, the state-promoted anti-Maoist militant movement. Sen was arrested on May 14, 2007 from Bilaspur and was in jail for two years before being granted bail by the Supreme Court in May last year.
"This sentence will seriously intimidate other human rights defenders who provide a peaceful outlet for people's grievances, especially for the indigenous Adivasi population," Zarifi said.