Once again, the Delhi Police was caught distorting judicial provisions and the 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. It seems that the Delhi Police was hopeful that Supreme Court will cancel their bail while reviewing the Special Leave Petitions filed by it.
In its plea before the SC, the Delhi Police has questioned the authority of Delhi High Court, which only had to decide bail, by saying that it 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 HC’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 have even been decried by international human rights bodies.
In recent months, the High Courts and the Supreme Court, have been striving to send a very clear and loud message to the State and the police administration not to trample basic human rights and resort to regressive mechanisms to harass and terrorise people, but they have refused to take the directives of the judiciary seriously.
On June 15, the Delhi High Court granted bail to 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 them. But the Delhi 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.
Delhi police in fact owes an explanation as to at whose instruction it was out to ruin their lives and future.
This machination of the police, in fact, forced the Delhi High Court bench of 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.
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. This is a matter of shame.
It is deplorable that PM Narendra 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, 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 itself as a 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.
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”.
Last year, an FIR was lodged against veteran 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 PM Narendra Modi. Before filing the FIR, the Himachal Pradesh Police did not bother to worry whether its charges would stand legal scrutiny.
The apex court not only quashed the criminal complaint against Vinod Dua but 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.
Another journalist and an office-bearer of Kerala Union of Working Journalists, Kappan Siddique has been in jail facing sedition and other charges like the Unlawful Activity (Prevention) Act since October 2020.
Around 15 noted intellectuals, journalists, academics and social activists have been implicated by the NIA in Bhima Korgaon case. Most of them are above 70 years of age and suffer from 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.
The reasons for their being denied the bail is they are ‘dangerous anti-Indian elements’. They are apparently such a threat to the democratic institution and security of the country that they cannot be released from the jail on bail.
The manner in which the NIA is behaving simply strengthens the belief that it is not averse to their dying inside the jails.
On June 10 this year, more than 100 academics, European Union parliamentarians, Nobel laureates and other figures of international prominence wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Chief Justice of India, 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 case.
India has already earned a very bad name across the globe for violating human rights. One hopes that the Supreme Court will intervene to set the house in order. It must entrust a judge of the High Court in each state to exclusively monitor cases of violation of human rights. The police, within 24 hours of their action, must bring such a 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. It must also take action against police officials found to be involved in harassing individuals and activists under such laws.
Views are personal