Indian Court Ignores Nobelists' Plea to Release Physician-Activist

Martin is a contributing news editor and writer based in Amsterdam

An appeal by 45 of the world's top scientists to release an Indian doctor accused of helping Maoist insurgents has failed to sway a state supreme court. On Thursday, the High Court in India's central state of Chhattisgarh rejected an appeal for the release on bail of Binayak Sen, a doctor and human rights activist.

Sen, the vice president of India's People's Union for Civil Liberties, was arrested in 2007 and accused of aiding Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh, known as Naxalites, by smuggling notes from one of them being held in jail. He was released on bail in May 2009 but was convicted of sedition and sentenced to life in prison on 24 December 2010. His lawyers have said that they will appeal to India's Supreme Court.

In their petition (below), the Nobelists express their "astonishment and dismay at the unjust life sentence." They ask that Sen be released on bail and that "his appeal is heard without delay under the highest standards of Indian law." Sen is an "exceptional, courageous, and selfless colleague, dedicated to helping those in India who are least able to help themselves," the statement says.

The petition was authored by chemistry Nobel laureate and Rice University professor emeritus Robert Curl and released to the Indian media on Monday, says Carol Corillon, the executive director of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies. Curl and Corillon visited Sen in prison in 2008.

Corillon says that Sen is suffering from heart problems and that his wife and two daughters are living in very difficult circumstances. Sen has "really sacrificed a lot," she says.

February 8, 2011

Appeal for Indian Medical Doctor, Binayak Sen

We, the [45] undersigned Nobel Laureates, respectfully express our astonishment and dismay at the unjust life sentence handed down last month in India to a fellow scientist and human rights advocate, 61-year-old Dr. Binayak Sen.

We note that, when Dr. Sen was on trial in 2008 and many of us appealed for his release on bail, a year later the Supreme Court of India concurred with our opinion and ordered his immediate release. Several months after voicing our concern about Dr. Sen’s detention, one of us traveled to Chhattisgarh; met government officials; consulted Dr. Sen’s family, lawyers, and colleagues; visited his remote clinic to learn more about his selfless work with the Adivasis; and, after a few days and many hours spent waiting in the Raipur prison yard, finally met with Dr. Sen himself in the presence of the prison warden.

We have seen that Dr. Sen is an exceptional, courageous, and selfless colleague, dedicated to helping those in India who are least able to help themselves. Yet his recompense has been two years in prison under difficult conditions, a blatantly unfair trial lasting two years in the so-called “Fast Track” Sessions Court, an unjust conviction of sedition and conspiracy, and condemnation to life imprisonment.

We earnestly hope that our renewed appeal is heard. We know that there are leaders in India who have the power, humanity, patriotism, and decency to speak out against this injustice. We entreat those leaders to act now, to urge Dr. Sen’s immediate release on bail, and insist that this time his appeal is heard without delay under the highest standards of Indian law.

Surely, those who would see the largest democracy in the world survive and thrive can do no less at this crucial time for both Dr. Sen and for the future of justice in India.

Respectfully,

Peter Agre, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2003

Kenneth J. Arrow, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 1972

Richard Axel, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2004

David Baltimore, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1975

Baruch S. Blumberg, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1976

Martin Chalfie, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2008

Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1997

Paul Crutzen, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1995

Robert Curl, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996

Johann Deisenhofer, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1988

Richard R. Ernst, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1991

Edmond H. Fischer, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1992

Walter Gilbert, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1980

Roy J. Glauber, Nobel Prize in Physics, 2005

Paul Greengard, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2000

David J. Gross, Nobel Prize in Physics, 2004

Roger Guillemin, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1977

Dudley Herschbach, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1986

Antony Hewish, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1974

H. Robert Horvitz, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2002

David H. Hubel, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1981

François Jacob, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1965

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 2002

Eric R. Kandel, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2000

Lawrence R. Klein, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 1980

Roger D. Kornberg, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2006

Sir Harold W. Kroto, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996

Finn E. Kydland, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 2004

Yuan T. Lee, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1986

Anthony J. Leggett, Nobel Prize in Physics, 2003

Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1986

Roderick MacKinnon, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2003

Sir James Mirrlees, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 1996

Joseph E. Murray, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1990

Douglas D. Osheroff, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1996

John C. Polanyi, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1986

V. Ramakrishnan, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2009

Sir Richard Roberts, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1993

Jens C. Skou, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1998

Jack Steinberger, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1988

Sir John Sulston, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2002

Charles H. Townes, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1964

Harold E. Varmus, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1989

Klaus von Klitzing, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1985

Torsten N. Wiesel, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1981