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October 25, 2002

Deaf protesters gather for Briton in India

From: BBC UK
Oct. 25, 2002

Deaf people from across the country gathered in London on Friday to campaign for the release of a British activist for the deaf imprisoned in India.

Ian Stillman is serving a 10-year prison term in India after he was found guilty of smuggling 20 kilos of cannabis. He has always maintained his innocence.

Outside the Indian High Commission in central London, a crowd of about 60 protesters laid down a number of demands including better rights for deaf people in India.

Stillman's deafness has been the subject of some controversy since he was arrested in August 2000. Although he has spent most of his life working for deaf causes in India, the authorities at his original trial refused to believe he could not hear and so refused him an interpreter.

At the protest in London, deaf campaigner David Buxton, an old friend of Stillman's, handed medical documents to the Indian authorities certifying Stillman condition.

"I think the Indian High Commission can see, from this protest, that there is no doubt about Ian being deaf and from the evidence I presented I hope they will understand that he did not have a fair trial," said Mr Buxton.

Stillman, who only has one leg and suffers from diabetes, became profoundly deaf at the age of two after being given quinine as a treatment for malaria.

"It's stupid that they don't believe him: Ian went to a deaf school, a deaf church, there's never been any doubt," said Mr Buxton.

Pardon petition

Stillman's family and friends are pinning their hopes on a pardon application submitted to the Indian president last month. Earlier this year his case was dismissed by the appeal court and he was later refused leave to appeal to India's supreme court.

But campaigners hope he will be freed; they also fear this could mean he will be deported. Stillman has lived in India for 30 years, is married to an Indian woman and has set up charities in the country to aid some of India's population in the south of the country.

He is currently being held in a prison in Shimla in the mountains of the north, thousands of miles from his wife and daughter.

With the onset of winter, the freezing temperatures inside his cell at night are a further worry and this could lead to further complications with his diabetes.

Amputation fear

Cold weather causes bad circulation and, according to Stillman's brother-in-law Jerry Dugdale, there is a "very real danger" this could lead to diabetes neuropathy, where the nerve endings seize up.

"He lost the sensation in his leg last winter and we are worried that if it happens again he will have to have his good leg amputated," said Mr Dugdale.

There is some hope among campaigners that Stillman will be pardoned - the case was said to be among topics discussed earlier this month in a meeting between UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Indian leader Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Among those at the protest on Friday was layer and the lawyer and human rights activist Stephen Jakobi, who runs Fair Trials Abroad.

Mr Jakobi has repeatedly said that Stillman's case is the "worst miscarriage of justice" he has ever dealt with.

"Here is a man who is supposed to have been smuggling 20 kilos of cannabis but who would probably fall over if he was just carrying a shopping bag. It's the most horrendous and shocking case I've ever encountered," Mr Jakobi told BBC News Online.

"It shouldn't be forgotten that in the past he has been an advisor to the Indian government on deaf issues."

The Indian High Commission were unable to comment.