An Indian high court has delayed until next month a decision on granting bail to Indian children's doctor Binayak Sen. Sen was sentenced to life in prison last month for his alleged role in assisting anti-government Maoist insurgents. But a senior U.N. envoy says his case may be symptomatic of a much larger problem of human-rights abuse in India.
Indian pediatrician Binayak Sen was in court for two days this week, seeking bail as he appeals last month's life sentence by a court in the Indian state of Chattisgarh. But the state's high court decided to delay any further discussion of the matter until next month.
Last month's sentencing of Dr. Sen has drawn statements of outrage from human-rights advocates around the world, who say he deserves praise for his work in improving the health of some of India's poorest toddlers and infants. His accusers say he helped pass messages and make financial arrangements for a Maoist militant movement that has killed thousands of people since it arose in 1967.
Ugandan lawyer Margaret Sekaggya was appointed more than two years ago by the U.N. a special investigator on the situation of human-rights defenders around the world. She says Binayak Sen certainly appears to fit that description.
"The evidence shows that he was a human-rights defender. He is advocating for human rights."
Sekaggya says the United Nations should be concerned at India's inconsistent use of security laws meant to combat insurgency and terrorism.
"I am deeply concerned about the arbitrary application of security laws at the national and state level ... which direly affects the work of human rights defenders ... I am troubled by the branding and stigmatization of human-rights defenders who are labelled as Maoists, terrorists, militants, insurgents, anti-nationalists, members of [the] underground."
Opponents of India's anti-terror laws says they are too wide-ranging, and too easily politicized for use against those who point out embarrassing truths about rampant inequality and exploitation. Supporters say law enforcers need extraordinary measures because India faces extraordinary threats, from Maoist militants in the Northeast, to Pakistani-backed operatives in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Sekaggya says she acknowledges the security challenges faced by the Indian government.
"The issue is, how do you balance between security and the rights of the people? And the freedom of the people?"
European Union delegates are closely monitoring Dr. Sen's appeal, and Sekaggya says the United Nations will as well.
"We would ask the government to give due process. We are waiting for the outcome. We want to see how the case is going to be handled."
Binayak Sen is scheduled to be in court again February 9th.