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09 December 2023

EU diplomats to sit-in on Indian doctor's appeal


European diplomats intend to observe the appeal hearing of an Indian doctor sentenced to life in prison on charges of helping Maoist insurgents, the German embassy in Delhi said on Sunday.

A statement on the embassy website expressed concern for the doctor, Binayak Sen, adding that the EU would send representatives of "Delhi-based missions of Belgium, Germany, France, Hungary, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the EU" to observe the appeal.

The hearing is expected to be held in Bilaspur in the insurgency-riven state of Chhattisgarh on Monday, where Sen, a pediatrician and activist, was arrested in 2007 on charges of waging war against India.

He received a life sentence before Christmas last year after prosecutors successfully argued that he helped Maoist guerrillas create an urban network and had acted as a go-between for a leftwing leader and a businessman.

Sen says he is innocent.

He had been running health clinics and training health workers in Chhattisgarh's tribal communities, among India's poorest people and whose plight the Maoist rebels claim to champion.

The EU said that its decision to attend the hearing was "part of the EU's policy to support Human Rights Defenders worldwide," and added that the verdict had "led to a widespread reaction by civil society" in EU member nations.

Days after Sen's sentencing, international academics and civil rights organisations condemned the court's decision, with human rights group Amnesty International describing him as "a prisoner of conscience."

Almost 1,000 people, including 577 civilians, died in the first 10 months of 2010 in violence linked to the Maoist revolt across India, according to official data.

The Maoist movement, which began in 1967, feeds off land disputes, police brutality and corruption and is strongest in the poorest and most deprived areas of India, many of which are rich in natural resources.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has labelled the insurgency the number one threat to India's internal security.