When Sen's appeal came up for hearing, a division bench comprising justices T P Sharma and R L Jhanwar, considered the reference on the EU proposal made to it by the state government and decided to allow the eight-member team to attend the proceedings. The arguments on Sen's bail application will continue in the high court on Tuesday.
The request of the EU to be present in the court had earlier been sent by the External Affairs Ministry to the Chhattisgarh government, which had in turn, referred the matter to the high court.
Appearing for 61-year-old Sen, who has been sentenced by a sessions court to life imprisonment for colluding with Maoists to establish a network to fight the state, Jethmalani told the high court, "My client is absolutely innocent. There is no case. The whole case is nothing but political persecution and legally it is a case of no evidence; not merely bad evidence, but no evidence," Jethmalani submitted.
On the charge that Sen had carried as a courier a letter from jailed Naxal ideologue Narayan Sanyal to underground Maoists, he said, "The prosecution planted one document, otherwise there is no other document that implicates him. So, this is a useless case and the government should withdraw it."
Jethmalani contended that Sen, along with Sanyal and Kolkata-businessmen Piyush Guha had also been convicted under the tough Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, a law which, he said, was already under challenge by human rights activists in the high court. He said Sen, a doctor by profession, had met Sanyal 32 times in the Raipur jail and once in Bilaspur jail to advise the Naxalite ideologue on medical issues.
While Jethmalani was assisted by two other lawyers -- Mahendra Dubey and Surendra Singh -- who also appeared for Sen, Dubey also represented 35-year-old Guha.
On Sen's wife Ilina's statement that her husband was paying a price for being a vocal critic of the policies of the state government, Jethmalani told reporters outside the court, "That is a very valid defence considering facts of the case."
On he, despite being a BJP MP, appearing for Sen, the senior lawyer said, "I am not a senior BJP leader. I am only a member of the BJP. I don't see it as a conflict of interest in any case. Everybody knows I am bound by the rules of professional conduct and etiquette."
"We have a statutory rule that no lawyer should refuse to defend a person on the ground that he is unpopular," he said, adding that he was appearing for free.
Additional Advocate General Kishore Bhaduri represented the Chhattisgarh government.
Appealing to the court to release Sen on bail, Jethmalani said members of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, India's oldest human rights' organisation, of which his client was an active member, had in the past communicated with each other through letters. "It is a not a crime to write a letter," he said.
Earlier, activists of BJP's students' wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarti Parishad protested against the EU team's visit and appearance of Jethmalani for Sen and showed black flags, prompting the authorities to step up security.
The EU had earlier informed the MEA that it intended to send representatives from its Delhi-based missions of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Hungary, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the EU, to attend the court hearing. In a statement, it had also expressed to the Indian authorities its concern about the conditions pertaining to the detention of Sen.
Additional District and Sessions Judge B P Verma had on December 24 last held the trio guilty under sections 124 A (sedition) and 120 B (conspiracy) of Indian Penal Code and provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act.
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. Sen was sent back to prison after being sentenced.
Sanyal arrested in Khammam in Andhra Pradesh in January 2006, while Guha was nabbed a year later in May. Officials in Raipur had said yesterday that the Centre has not issued any directive to the state government on the EU proposal. Additional Advocate General Bhaduri had said permission of the court has to be taken to allow presence of foreign nationals at the hearing.Chhattisgrah BJP vice-president Sachhidanand, who is also a lawyer, has criticised the request of the EU saying it was trying the "interfere" in the due process.