By Arun Srivastava
Once again the Delhi police has been caught distorting the judicial provision and penal policy by not releasing the three student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha granted bail on June 16 by the Delhi High Court on the plea that it needed time to conduct address verification of the accused and their sureties.
This argument is untenable as they are in the prison and the jail authorities must be in possession of their addresses. One of them Tanha is already on bail. The Delhi police is hopeful that Supreme Court will cancel their bail while reviewing the Special Leave Petitions of Delhi police.
Strange enough the Delhi police has the audacity to question the authority of Delhi court by saying that High Court, which only had to decide bail, had conducted a “mini trial” and “watered down” provisions of the UAPA anti-terror law “which will have wide ramifications and will affect all the cases registered by the National Investigation Agency (NIA)” under the Act.
It took strong objection to the bench’s remark “that in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the State, the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred”. It said this “is an insinuation, albeit unfounded and perverse, that the present case was registered by the Government to suppress dissent. A fortiori, that it was a false case” and that this “was beyond the preview of the bail petition”.
The High Court order, it said, “has held that provisions of UAPA can only be applied to deal with matters of profound impact on the ‘Defence of India’, nothing more and nothing less” and contended that “this… was firstly, an irrelevant consideration to grant bail to the respondent, and secondly, will have far reaching consequences for cases investigated by NIA and other investigating agencies” and is “thus unsustainable in law and deserves to be stayed” immediately.
Misuse of UAPA by the police has been an open secret. In fact it is blatantly misused by Delhi and UP police to implicate innocent academics, writers, journalists and social activists. Their actions has even been decried by the international human rights bodies.
In recent months the judiciary, the High Courts and the Supreme Court, have been striving to send a very clear and loud message to the states and the police administration not to trample the basic human rights and resort to regressive mechanism to harass and terrorise the people, but it is an irony that the state and the police have refused to take the directives of the judiciary seriously. The latest action of Delhi police is testimony to it.
On June 15, the Delhi High Court granted bail to student activists Asif Iqbal Tanha, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita after finding that the police did not have specific and factual allegations against the student activists. The court found no specific or factual allegations against the student activists. What has been worse the police instead of accepting the Delhi High Court’s order as a slur on its functioning rushed to the Supreme Court in anticipation of a reprieve.
One question which arises how could the politician who enjoyed sadist pleasure in sending them jail, or the commissioner of Delhi Police or other senior police officers who planned to incarcerate them, compensate the loss of their precious one year. Delhi police also owes an explanation at whose instruction it was out to ruin their lives and future.
This machination of the police in fact forced the High Court justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup J. Bhambhani to observe that the foundations of the country stood on surer footing than those likely to be shaken by a protest, however vicious, organized by college students who operated from the confines of a university. “The allegations against the student leaders do not show that they committed any crime under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act [UAPA],” they said.
It is indeed painful to watch the attitude and approach of the lower courts in such matters. The moment the activists are produced before them, the lower courts refuse to hear their bail plea and subscribing to the police allegation remand the activists. Inside police lock up they are tortured and made to furnish confessional statements. If the lower courts do not have the right to hear the bail application, then there is no need to produce these people before them. Why to waste the precious time of the activists.
The order of the High Court reveals that Delhi police had “casually” invoked provisions of anti-terror laws against protesters. This manifests that the administration whose job is to protect the constitutional rights of its citizens are in fact indulging in acts of suppression against citizens’ right to dissent by framing charges under special laws that are meant for hardcore terrorists. It is matter of shame.
It is really deplorable that Modi and his home minister Amit Shah have been using the pandemic to crack down on dissent. A colonial-era sedition law and an anti-terrorism law that makes it nearly impossible for the accused to get bail (UAPA) is being widely used to jail activists, journalists and protesters.
A couple of months back the Delhi police had named CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, economist Jayati Ghosh and Delhi University professor Apoorvanand in the February riots cases, accusing them of “provoking and mobilising” anti-CAA protesters. Presenting it as the most pious organisation it claimed before the court that their names were included based on the statements of three students already arrested in the case. Strange. Delhi police acts on hearsay and is not bothered of the facts. Yechury had hit out; ¨The Delhi Police is under the Centre and the Home Ministry. Its illegitimate, illegal actions are a direct outcome of the politics of BJP’s top leadership. They are scared of legitimate peaceful protests by mainstream political parties & are misusing state power to target the Opposition,”
A couple of months back an FIR was lodged against the prominent journalist Vinod Dua under provisions of the IPC for alleged offences of sedition, public nuisance, printing defamatory materials and public mischief. He was charged with criticizing Narendra Modi. Before filing the FIR the Himachal police did not think for a while that whether its charges would stand legal scrutiny. In their quest to identify as the blue eyed boy of Modi the police official distorted and twisted the legal provisions.
The apex court not only quashed the criminal complaint against Vinod Dua but has also underlined the importance of protecting journalists from sedition cases. The apex court also made it amply clear that a journalist cannot be arrested just because he/she has criticised the government. “The principles culled out from the decision in Kedar Nath Singh show that a citizen has a right to criticise or comment upon the measures undertaken by the government and its functionaries, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder,” the SC said.
In January, IWPC founder member Mrinal Pande and some other journalists were booked for sedition for tweets relating to farmers’ protests. Another journalist and Kerala Union of Working Journalists’ office-bearer Kappan Siddique has been in jail facing sedition and other charges like the Unlawful Activity (Prevention) Act since October 2020, the IWPC noted. “While we know that charges like sedition do not stand in courts, we also know that such charges are slapped to harass them,” the IWPC said.
Around 15 famous intellectuals, journalists, academics and social activists have been implicated by the NIA in Bhima Korgaon case. Most of them are above 70m years of age. They are patients and suffer with major health infirmities. They are in jails for more than a year. It is widely known that they were described as urban naxals and imprisoned at the behest of a senior RSS leader. Their physical conditions are so precarious that they need one helping hand but this small facility is not provided to most of them.
The reasons for their being denied the bail is they are most dangerous anti-Indian elements. They are threat to the democratic institution and security of the country that they cannot be released from the jail. The manner in which the NIA is behaving it simply strengthens the belief that it is not averse to their dying inside the jails.
Only on June 10 this year more than 100 academics, European Union parliamentarians, Nobel laureates and other figures of international prominence have written a letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Chief Justice of India, the chief minister of Maharashtra, the EU Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other Indian authorities demanding the release of political prisoners arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon.
India has already earned a very bad name across the globe for shattering the basic human rights. It is high time the Supreme Court must intervene to set the house in order. It must entrust a judge of the High Court in the state exclusively to monitor the cases of violation of human rights. The police within 24 hours of their action must bring such case to the notice of the High Court. Any action should depend on the review of the case by the judge. It should be made mandatory not to jail the social activists, journalists, academics and intellectuals.
The Supreme Court in the meanwhile should constitute a bench to decide the issue of abrogation of the sedition charge. The apex court is aware of the fact that how the provision of sedition is being misused by the police to serve the political interest of their political masters. Till the bench decides about the existence of the sedition on the statute book, it should order that no conscience people should be implicated under the sedition law. It must also take action against the police officials found to involve in ruining the future of the activists. As they are above law they resort to all kind of activities. (IPA Service)