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December 7, 2002

Campaigners praised over Briton's release

From: BBC, UK - 07 Dec 2002

Tribute have been paid to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and deaf activists for their part in helping secure the release of a Briton from an Indian prison.

Mr Straw's efforts on behalf of deaf charity worker Ian Stillman were described as "magnificent" by Stephen Jakobi, director of the pressure group Fair Trials Abroad.

And he said the release of Mr Stillman two years into a ten-year sentence for drug smuggling was a triumph for the deaf community.

The 52-year-old, who is deaf, has an artificial leg and diabetes, was released on Saturday by the Indian government on health grounds.

His release follows a tireless two-year campaign led by his family and supported by friends and sympathisers.

Mr Stillman has always protested his innocence since he was jailed for smuggling 20 kilos of cannabis in 2000.

Driving force

Though the charity worker has not been acquitted, campaigners have welcomed news of his release.

Mr Jakobi told BBC News Online: "The personal intervention of Jack Straw was quite magnificent".

He said the UK foreign secretary's public involvement and actions behind the scenes could only have given impetus to the campaign.

Mr Straw first met members of Mr Stillman's family on 19 November.

He had previously held a meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha when he discussed the case on 31 October.

And earlier in October Foreign Office Minister Mike O' Brien had also raised the case with Indian authorities, according to the Foreign Office.


Mr Jakobi said this also marked a "great triumph for the deaf community."

Only in October deaf campaigners gathered in London in support of Mr Stillman.

Outside the Indian High Commission protesters also demanded better rights for deaf people in India.

Mr Stillman's profound deafness was a key issue in his trial.

The authorities refused to believe he could not hear and his supporters said he was refused an interpreter.

Although he can lip-read English and understand sign language, proceedings were conducted in Hindi.

His plight also galvanised support among many in India's deaf community.

Last year his supporters were among protesters on a National Disability Day march in the capital Delhi, where they carried a 40ft banner proclaiming "Free Ian Stillman Now!"

Petition support

Mr Stillman, who has spent 30 years working for deaf causes in India, became profoundly deaf at the age of two after being given quinine to treat malaria.

But the campaign to free the charity worker has spread far beyond the deaf community.

Since he was arrested while travelling in Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, in an area called the Kullu Valley after cannabis was found in a taxi, the campaign to free him has gathered momentum.

It was a cause that captured the imagination of people far and wide.

By Saturday, 91,000 had signed the petition for Mr Stillman's release and more than 240 MPs supported the campaign.