On Christmas Eve, the Raipur Sessions court delivered a surprisingly harsh sentence in the case of The State of Chhattisgarh versus Pijush Guha, Binayak Sen and Narayan Sanyal, where B.P. Verma sentenced all three to life imprisonment for “conspiring to commit sedition.”
This latest ruling on a sedition case isn’t so much about the narrowing of the space of expression in India (there are far more illustrative cases here, here and here) but more about the wide application of the sedition law to convict when the supporting evidence is questioned by the defence.
Prosecution teams seem to have figured out that in cases involving “Maoist issues” – a poor investigation can easily be supported by planting “seditious” documents and pushing for sedition.
Through the course of this post, I shall try to collate some my coverage over the last two weeks to give you all a sense of how the trial proceeded. As always, I this piece serves as a starting point for further discussions. I would urge readers to post comments with links to articles that they found interesting (along with their own thoughts of course).
For an excellent overview of the case (written prior to the verdict) read Supriya Sharma’s piece in the Times of India.
The prosecution seemed to hinge its entire case on one pivotal witness: Anil Kumar Singh, who stuck to his story while others turned hostile:
The prosecution’s case is supported by witness Anil Singh, who claims to have been present when the police arrested Mr. Guha. Singh has signed the seizure memo, affirming the police’s recovery of 10 articles from Mr. Guha’s possessions.
On cross-examination, Singh has admitted that he has signed against only three of the 10 items allegedly discovered in Mr. Guha’s bag. The remaining seven articles have been signed by policemen B.S. Jagrit and Ravindra Upadhyay. Singh also deposed that Mr. Upadhyay wrote out the seizure memo, which he, Singh, subsequently signed. This was contradicted by B.S. Jagrit, who testified that the he had written out the seizure memo himself. The police are also unable to explain why Mr. Guha’s arrest memo makes no mention of the 10 seized articles.
The prosecution also referred to the testimonies of hotel owner Suresh Chand Yadu. The police had claimed that Mr. Yadu saw Dr. Sen visit Mr. Guha while the latter was staying at Hotel Geetanjali. However, Mr. Yadu subsequently turned hostile, stating that he never saw anyone visit Mr. Guha during his stay at the hotel.
Moving on to the evidence:
Some of it was frankly surprising:
“We have a chimpanzee in the White House,” said public prosecutor T.C. Pandiya, eliciting a rare smile from the presiding judge and lawyers gathered at the closing arguments of the trial of celebrated doctor and activist Binayak Sen, who has been charged with criminal conspiracy and waging war against the Indian state.
To buttress the state’s case against him, Mr. Pandiya was reading out emails recovered from Dr. Sen’s computer, which was seized by the Chhattisgarh police. “This email has been written in code. It is significant because terrorists oppose the U.S. President,” the prosecutor said….
“Ilina Sen has also written an email to one Fernandes from the ISI,” he said, “We do not know if this is the Pakistan’s ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], but there is some significance to this.”
Mr. Pandiya also took exception to the use of the word “comrade” by Ms. Ilina Sen when writing to one ‘Comrade Kusumlata.’ “Comrade is only used to refer to someone who is a Maoist,” he said.
Ms. Ilina told this correspondent that the first email was sent to Walter Fernandes at the Indian Social Institute in Delhi and the second was intended for Kusum Lata Kedia, former director of the Gandhi Institute, Varanasi.
‘Article 37′ (A-37) is an unsigned letter urging Dr. Sen to send a fact-finding mission to probe alleged police atrocities in Chhattisgarh in his capacity as the State president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
The prosecution insists that the document proves Dr. Sen was in direct correspondence with the banned CPI (Maoist). The defence believes that the letter is the clearest indication that the Chhattisgarh police fabricated evidence to frame Dr. Sen.
In his order, Justice B.P. Verma indicated that there were inconsistencies in the witness statements:
Commenting on the witness statements, Mr. Verma writes in paragraph 104: “While the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses certainly have minor absences and contradictions, they are not of a material nature and cannot be used to label the prosecution’s case suspicious, nor can the prosecution’s witnesses be considered untrustworthy.”
But not enough to dismiss the case of the prosecution entirely.
We will try to upload the judgment in the coming days. Look forward to your comments.