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December 7, 2002

Jailed charity worker freed

From: BBC, UK - 7 Dec 2002

Deaf charity worker Ian Stillman has been released from prison two years into a ten-year sentence for drug smuggling in India.

The 52-year-old was freed from prison in Shimla north of Delhi shortly before 1400 GMT on Saturday.

He was released on health grounds but has not been acquitted, the Foreign Office told BBC News Online.

The Indian authorities had come under increasing pressure to free Mr Stillman, who is deaf, has an artificial leg and diabetes.

He was found guilty of smuggling 20 kilos of cannabis in August 2000 after the drug was found in a shared taxi but has always maintained his innocence.

Return to UK

On leaving prison he was reunited with his family who had been in the country to visit him for his birthday earlier this week.

Speaking soon after hearing the news, brother-in-law Brendan Bowles said the family were "very relieved" he had finally been released.

Stephen Jakobi, director of the pressure group Fair Trials Abroad, said pressure from the deaf community and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's intervention helped secure Mr Stillman's release.

The charity worker and his family were expected to arrive back in the UK on Thursday or Friday, Mr Jakobi told BBC News Online.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said Mr Stillman was travelling to the British High Commission in Delhi where he would spend several days resting and seeing his family.

"We are very grateful to the Indian Government for releasing him on health grounds," she said.

The Indian authorities had asked Mr Stillman to leave the country, she added.


Mr Stillman's brother-in -law Mr Bowles said the family had never given up hope the charity worker would be released even after years of campaigning.

He told BBC News Online: "We feel justified about this because he comes out with his head held high.

"It seemed unbelievable that someone should be locked up for so long for something he had not done."

Mr Stillman's wife Sue, 23-year-old son Lennie and 20-year-old daughter Anita and brother-in-law Jerry Dugdale are now with him, he said.

"Support from the around the world has been amazing," he said.

By Saturday 91,000 had signed the petition and more than 240 MPs supported the campaign.

Speaking from Hampshire, Mr Stillman's nephew Barny Phelps reiterated that the family were overjoyed to hear of their relative's release.

"But this is clemency, not a full pardon," he said.

Personal intervention

Mr Jakobi, of Fair Trials Abroad, also welcomed the news.

"We are absolutely delighted that he is going to be with his close family at Christmas.

"It has been a pretty nerve-wracking time for everyone. This is a great triumph for the deaf community."

He said Mr Stillman, originally from Reading, Berkshire, was "very overwhelmed" by events.

"What is important is that he is out and free to continue to work for the deaf community."

He praised Mr Straw's personal intervention in the case as "magnificent".

Mr Stillman has spent most of his life working for deaf causes in India.

But the authorities at his original trial refused to believe he could not hear and refused him an interpreter.

He became profoundly deaf at the age of two after being given quinine to treat malaria.

Mr Stillman, who has lived in India for 30 years, has set up charities in the south of the country.

Earlier this year his case was dismissed by the appeal court and he was later refused leave to appeal to India's supreme court.