Notes from a trial observer
"Blatant and shocking attempt by the police to plant false incriminating evidence against Binayak."
-- By Dr. Abhay Shukla Member, National Human Rights Commission.
Along with Kavita Srivastava, Dipankar and Pranhita (Binayak’s brother and daughter), I had a chance to attend the hearings of Binayak’s trial on 30 and 31 July, 2008 at Raipur, Chhattisgarh.
As expected we witnessed the bizarre features of this trial which have been already observed by many others – large presence of armed police in and around the court, all entrants to the court being physically searched and checked with metal detectors, Binayak and the other accused (Narayan Sanyal and Piyush Guha) being continuously surrounded by armed police and required to stand in court for long periods of time. What was new during the hearing on 30th July was the blatant and shocking attempt by the police to plant false incriminating evidence against Binayak.
During the hearing on 30th July, the ‘incriminating evidence’ seized from Binayak’s house was to be presented to the court. With a seizure witness (one Shyam Sundar Rao) testifying, the sealed packet with the documents seized from Binayak’s house in May 2007 was opened before the Judge. Nine documents which have been listed in the seizure memo and charge sheet emerged from the sealed packet, along with a set of newspaper clippings. The signatures of Binayak (who was present during the search) and search witnesses which were taken during the search, are present on all these documents as per search procedure. There is nothing specifically incriminating in these now well known documents, which could have been recovered from the house of any person who is a Left sympathiser.
However, the final document that surprisingly emerged from the packet was a letter ‘from Central Committee, CPI (Maoist) to Dr. Binayak Sen’, without any name or signature of person sending the letter. It looks like a plain computer printout since there is no signature of sender. This letter was not mentioned in the list of documents seized from Binayak’s house, is not mentioned in the search memo, is not mentioned in the police charge sheet framed one year back, and does not have Binayak’s signature on it unlike all the other seized documents. It appears to be a forged, planted document which has mysteriously appeared in the ‘sealed’ packet, over a year after Binayak’s house was searched.
Binayak’s lawyer Mahendra Dubey effectively argued that this letter should not be considered as evidence, since it was not part of the seizure memo. He also effectively cross-examined the search witness (who according to lawyers is a typical ‘police witness’) and established that there was no basis to argue that this letter was part of the seized documents. In these circumstances, we would all hope that such blatantly false evidence would not be taken into consideration while judging the case.
It is worth noting here that in all the hearings so far, practically no specific incriminating evidence has been presented against Binayak. Most of the prosecution witnesses have turned hostile, and have refused to testify against Binayak in court despite some of their statements given earlier to the police. Now although there are more witnesses (a total of 83) most of the remaining witnesses are of a formal variety or do not relate to Binayak (they are related to Piyush Guha or Narayan Sanyal). In effect, the police is unable to present any specific incriminating evidence against Binayak, and now in their desperation to indict him seem to be concocting and planting false evidence.
In this situation, it is important that there is a ‘trial observation’ in Binayak’s case. The presence of external observers acts as a positive check on the court, since it reinforces the message that there is much larger public interest in the trial. Such external presence of course also boosts the morale of Binayak’s family members and lawyers who are confronting a very oppressive situation in Chhattisgarh. Finally such continued ‘trial observation’ and publicizing of any irregularities on a wide scale is the main tool we have, to attempt to ensure that this trial of a genuine Human rights defender in the face of tremendous odds, does not lead to conviction of the defender on falsely constructed grounds. Such conviction would be a very ominous precedent in the emerging human rights situation in our country, especially in states like Chhattisgarh.
Dr. Abhay Shukla Member, CORE GROUP OF NGO’s National Human Rights Commission.