1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Legal Rights - Case of Ian Stillman

Deaf Man Wrongfully Imprisoned?


Updated September 10, 2010

Updated September 10, 2010
Somewhere in India, a deaf man is jailed for several more years, unless political pressure can free him. Why is he in jail? He is in jail because he was caught with some illegal drugs. This extremely complicated case mixes facts with allegations on both sides:

In August 2000, Ian Stillman, a 50-ish, diabetic, British deaf (since age two) charity worker for almost 30 years, was arrested in India after the police found a 20 kg bag of a drug (cannabis) in a taxi he rode in. The arrest took place in a town where drug smuggling is common. Stillman, who has an artificial leg, was sentenced to ten years in prison.

  • Stillman did not have an interpreter for the several-hours police interrogation. Immediately after the interrogation he was taken into custody. His case did not come up for trial for ten months.
  • His supporters (major deaf/hoh organizations of Britain such as the RNID and non-deaf organizations such as the group Fair Trials Abroad) allege that Stillman did not have a fair trial. His trial was conducted in the Hindi language, which he does not know (he also claims to have been forced to sign Hindi-language documents incriminating himself), and a request for an interpreter was denied. All he could do was lip read part of what his lawyer said in English. In addition, he was not allowed to speak for himself. Yet, at the end of the trial, he was made to sign a form stating that he had understood what went on in the trial.
  • Allegedly, the evidence was not that clear. Stillman claims to have never seen the drug before his taxi was stopped at a roadblock.
  • His supporters allege that Stillman is not capable of carrying that much of the drug because of his artificial leg (20 kilograms converts to 44 pounds.)
  • At his trial, he stated he did not know the Hindi language. His son asked to be allowed to interpret for his father at the court hearing, but the request was denied by the judge.
  • The police stated in the hearing that they were not satisfied by Stillman's explanation for why he was in the area late at night (Stillman was there to explore opportunities for charitable work.) At the same time, the taxi driver and a companion testified that Stillman had not been carrying the bag of drugs.
  • Stillman was found guilty and sentenced to the ten years in prison.
  • Stillman has tried to appeal. The judge who heard his first appeal in January 2002 allegedly claimed he was only hard of hearing, not deaf. His case has been appealed all the way to the Indian Supreme Court, which turned him down in May 2002. He is now trying to appeal for release on medical grounds.
Stillman's supporters point to his record of humanitarian works as an indication that he is not the type of person who could commit this kind of crime:
  • In 1978, Stillman set up the Nambikkai Foundation for the deaf in India to provide deaf Indians with education/training and employment.
  • He advises the Indian government on deaf/hoh-related matters, and also assists deaf organizations in India.
  • He has been the subject of a BBC documentary on his works.
  • He has lived in India for decades, and is married to an Indian woman.
Efforts to Free Stillman (to date)
Appeals were made by Stillman's family and friends (who set up a website and an online petition that has garnered thousands of signatures) to high ranking officials in the Indian government, and the British Foreign Office (Prime Minister Tony Blair has even expressed an interest in Stillman's case) has pressured the Indian government. Even a British newspaper, the York Evening Press, has gotten involved in Stillman's case. As of this writing, Stillman is still in prison.

Guide comment: What really gets to me about this case is the claim that Stillman is not deaf, but hard of hearing. I was born profoundly deaf, just over the line from hard of hearing. What did that mean? It meant that I could wear hearing aids, but I could not understand what was said to me without utilizing all of my listening skills, combined with my speechreading skills. Stillman is said to be "totally" or "stone" deaf. What does that mean? It means a life like mine today - no hearing aids, having to use visual means for most communication and an inability to get much information through reading lips because of the lack of sound to help make sense out of what appears on the lips.

Update: Ian Stillman was freed in December 2002.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.