IM this article to a friend!

December 14, 2002

Disabled man jailed in India on 'absurd' drugs charges returns after two years

From: Independent, UK - 14 Dec 2002

By Terri Judd
14 December 2002

A disabled charity worker emerged into the arrivals area of Heathrow airport yesterday in a wheelchair, his arms outstretched as he returned home from two years in a primitive Indian prison cell.

Ian Stillman, 52, whose imprisonment on drugs charges was described as one of the worst miscarriages of justice, was freed after intervention by Tony Blair and the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.

His family, who had always insisted he was innocent and who had campaigned vociferously for his release, cheered and clapped as he appeared.

Mr Stillman, who is deaf, used sign language interpreted by Lennie, his son, to say: "It's brilliant to be free again. I was in jail far, far longer than I thought I would have been. I thought I would be freed after six months but it has taken just over two years."

After three decades of working for the deaf in India, Mr Stillman was arrested when travelling through the Kullu valley in the Himalayas 28 months ago, after police at a roadblock discovered 44lb of cannabis in his taxi.

Despite his family arguing that his disability meant he could not carry the consignment of drugs, the charity worker was sentenced to 10 years in June. He had not understood a word of his trial. Mr Stillman was incarcerated with 31 people in a small cell in Shimla prison, north of Delhi, with inadequate toilet facilities and heating. Last week, after Tony Blair appealed for clemency to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's Prime Minister, he was released. However, the Indian Supreme Court has refused him leave to appeal against his conviction.

Mr Stillman, who has an artificial leg and diabetes, vowed to fight on. "I want to make it very clear that even though we have faced difficulty over the last two years in India, I'm still committed to my work there. I hope that in time I will be allowed to return to my work.

"I felt that I was in prison for some purpose, perhaps to make people aware of the difficulties of communication with the police and the judicial system ... I hope to change that in the future."

Mr Stillman, who is originally from Reading, Berkshire, added: "My first priority is to get medical treatment before any problems get worse, and secondly I want to enjoy Christmas with my family."

Mr Stillman was allowed home after signing a declaration to leave India and is seeking a full presidential pardon. Campaigners have also called for an inquiry into the "appalling and extraordinarily bad" incompetence of the Foreign Office Consular Division during the case.

Stephen Jakobi, director of Fair Trials Abroad, described the case against Mr Stillman as absurd. "There are things that just scream out to you," he said. "I have never actually been presented with a case where the guy is physically incapable of acting in the manner suggested by police. They said he single-handedly carried around a cargo through India that he couldn't even lift because of his artificial leg."

Mr Stillman, who set up several charitable organisations on the subcontinent – including the Nabikkai Foundation for deaf education – will be joined for Christmas by his wife and their daughter.

His sister, Elspeth Dugdale, said yesterday: "We hoped all along that something would shift and that Ian would finally be released. We're just so pleased that he's now free."

© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd