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December 13, 2002

India releases British disabled charity worker

From: Guardian, UK - 13 Dec 2002

Staff and agencies
Friday December 13, 2002

A deaf and disabled British charity worker, jailed in India for drug smuggling, was today returning to Britain after being released early on health grounds.

Ian Stillman, 52, was freed after serving two years and two months of a 10-year jail term for possessing 20kg of cannabis.

Mr Stillman, who is deaf and has an artificial leg and diabetes, was accused of being a drugs baron. Despite a long-running miscarriage of justice campaign, he was not acquitted of his conviction.

He was released by the Indian authorities after the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, intervened on his behalf because primitive prison conditions in Simla, north of Delhi, were affecting his health. Mr Stillman is expected to land at Heathrow airport later today.

Campaigners have called for an inquiry into the "appalling and extraordinarily bad" incompetence of the Foreign Office consular division during the case.

The case against Mr Stillman, who had one leg amputated after a road accident two years ago, has been described as the worst miscarriage of justice that Fair Trials Abroad, which campaigned for Mr Stillman's release, had ever dealt with.

Stephen Jakobi, the organisation's director, said: "Ian's heart is in India, he has given his life to the country ... Fair Trials Abroad would like justice, but we will settle for what we can get, and getting people out of prison early is the best we can hope for, so this is a good result."

Mr Jakobi said Mr Stillman's release came after "enormous pressure" from the deaf community and the personal intervention of Mr Straw.

He was scathing about the Indian authorities and some Foreign Office officials: "This was not a miscarriage of justice, it was an uncivilised disgrace. The Indian justice system has disgraced itself in the eyes of the international community".

"Someone has to call for an internal inquiry by the Foreign Office. The consular division left Ian Stillman in jail for two years. I am totally appalled - I cannot believe how extraordinarily badly matters proceeded."

Mr Stillman will fly back from Delhi with his son Lennie, 23, and will be met at the airport by his sister Elspeth.

His Indian wife, Sue, and their autistic daughter, Anita, 20, are staying in India temporarily but will fly to the UK before Christmas. British Airways have paid for all the flights.

Mr Stillman was released from prison last Saturday and has since been staying at the British high commission in Delhi with his family.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said Mr Stillman's conviction still stood and the Indian authorities had requested that he leave the country. "Whether he is allowed to return to the country is a matter for them," she added.

This week Mr Stillman's father, Roy, said his son intended to continue seeking a pardon as soon as his health had recovered.

Mr Stillman was arrested two years ago in the foothills of the Himalayas, after police said a green bag containing the 20kg of drugs, which had been found in a shared taxi in which he was travelling, belonged to him. His supporters have pointed out that Mr Stillman's disabilities would have prevented him from being able to carry a bag of that weight.

Following his arrest, Mr Stillman was interrogated and forced to sign documents in Hindi, a language which he does not understand. He was remanded in prison for 10 months where he shared a 12ft cell with 35 other prisoners, 2,000 miles away from his wife and family who lived in Kanyakumari, southern India.

His trial was described as a "shameful farce" by Fair Trials Abroad. The authorities refused to believe he could not hear and refused him an interpreter. No fingerprint evidence was produced and the taxi driver and a travelling companion, produced as prosecution witnesses, vouched for his innocence on the stand.

He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in a remote prison in northern India, but his appeal against the conviction was rejected by the Indian supreme court in January and he was refused permission to launch a second appeal.

Mr Stillman has lived on the sub-continent since 1972 and set up a number of charitable organisations, including the Nabikkai Foundation, which helps provide training, education and employment for deaf people. A committed Christian, he also formerly worked as an adviser on disability to the Indian government.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002