In an unprecedented move, 22 Nobel Prize winning scientists and economists have appealed to the Indian government to release the jailed paediatrician and humanitarian activist Dr Binayak Sen enabling him to go and receive the 2008 Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights
in Washington later this month.
Dr Sen, who is the first south Asian to be selected for the prestigious award, was arrested under the Chhattisgarh State Public Security Act last year on false charges of 'supporting' unlawful activities of an armed underground movement. There is no evidence to prove these charges however and it is widely believed that Dr Sen is being victimized for his human rights work and exposure of violations carried out by police and the state-sponsored militia called Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh.
"While the judicial process involving our professional colleague moves forward, we respectfully request that Dr. Sen be freed from incarceration on humanitarian grounds to receive his award and to
continue his important medical work" says the letter from the Nobel Prize winners, dated 9 May and addressed to a host of top Indian officials including Smt. Pratibha Patil, President of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister and Dr Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh.
Signatories to the letter include nine Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, nine in Chemistry, two in Physics and two in Economics. They are:
John Polanyi (Chemistry 1986),
Francois Jacob (Medicine 1965),
Roger Guillemin (Medicine 1977),
Charles Townes (Physics 1964),
John Polanyi (Chemistry 1986),
Peter Agre (Chemistry 2003),
Claude Cohen-Tannoudji (Physics 1997),
Robert Curl (Chemistry1996),
Johann Diesenhofer (Chemistry 1988),
Paul Greengard (Physiology or Medicine 2000),
Eric Kandel (Physiology or Medicine 2000),
Sir Harald Kroto (Chemistry 1996),
Yuan T. Lee (Chemistry 1986),
Craig C. Mello (Physiology or Mediicne 2006),
F. Sherwood Rwoland (Chemistry 1995),
Jens C. Skou (Chemistry 1997),
Philip A. Sharp (Physiology or Medicine 1993),
Harold Varmus (Physiology or Medicine 1989),
Sir John E. Walker (Chemistry 1997),
Torsten Wiesel (Physiology or Medicine 1981),
Kenneth J. Arrow (Economics 1972) and
Finn Kydland (Economics 2004).
Text of Nobel Prize winners’ statement can be accessed here.
The Nobel Prize winners’ statement raises concerns that Dr. Sen appears to be incarcerated solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental human rights, in contravention of Articles 19 (freedom of opinion and expression) and 22 (freedom of association) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights--to which India is a state party. Further, it says "...he is charged under two internal security laws that do not comport with international human rights standards."
This is not the first time that prominent intellectuals from around the world have appealed for the release of Dr Binayak Sen, an outstanding humanitarian physician who has spent over three decades in the service of rural and tribal communities in Chattisgarh. In a statement last month, Dr. Nils Dulaire, President of the Global Health Council, which selected Dr Sen for the Jonathan Mann Award said, "We believe, however, that allowing Dr. Sen to attend the award's ceremony would send a strong signal internationally that would help to restore faith that India and
its states are indeed committed to fairly addressing this and other cases related to civil conflicts and civil liberties"
The coming together of twenty-two Nobel Prize winners in support of a political prisoner in India is unprecedented and speaks volumes of the admiration evoked by Dr Sen among his global peers. "It provides clear evidence of the level of concern that Binayak's case has engendered around the world," said Dr Ilina Sen, wife of Dr Binayak Sen, herself a well-known scholar and rights activist.
On 14 May, 2008, the first anniversary of Dr Sen's arrest, hundreds of people across the globe are planning to stage demonstrations, hold vigils and organise public meetings demanding his immediate release.
Apart from cities like New Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai in India protests are also planned in ten North American and three European cities including New York, Toronto, London, Paris and Stockholm. Most of these protests, organised by members of the Indian diaspora along with global activist groups, will be staged outside Indian embassies and consulates in these cities.
In Thiruvananthapuram, the Ethical Medical Forum has organized a film show and meeting at the Medical College in support of Dr. Binayak Sen. It will be inaugurated by Dr. PKR Warrier
The international attention proves, as was noted in the Global Health Council's statement of support, that the "world is watching" to see whether India will maintain its proud democratic tradition.
For further information contact:
* Satya Sivaraman, New Delhi Ph: +91-9818514952
* Dr P.Zachariah, Vellore Ph: +91-9442607116
* Dr Rakhal, Chennai Ph: +91- 9940246089
* Dr Punyabrata Gun, Kolkata Ph: +91-9830922194
* Dr Abhay Shukla, Pune Ph: +91-9422317515
* Somu Kumar, US email@example.com
* Shalini Gera, US firstname.lastname@example.org
* Kalpana Wilson, London email@example.com
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