Activist arrests: SC observes “Liberty cannot be subjected to conjectures” during hearing

Defence lawyers in the case of five activists under house arrest in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case, on Sept 18 argued in the Supreme Court that an independent SIT investigation be constituted

NH Web Desk

The three-judge bench of Supreme Court on Wednesday deferred the hearing against arrest of five rights activists—Arun Ferreira, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves and Gautam Navlakha—in Bhima-Koregaon violence case till Thursday, September 20. House arrest of the activists would continue till then.

The defence lawyers on Wednesday disputed the registration of a second FIR in the case and demanded constitution of a Special Investigation Team for an independent probe into the case. Senior advocate Anand Grover who appeared for some of the activists stated that “once an FIR was already registered on January 4, 2018, there was no reason under the law to register second FIR.” He said that “the second FIR was nothing but cooked up.” Defence lawyers also claimed that the sweeping raids on the rights’ activists on August 28 were conducted without required permission, and that translated copies of warrants written in Marathi were not provided to the non-Marathi speaking activists by the Maharashtra police.

While the Centre has justified the police high-handedness, several petitions in the apex court have challenged the police crackdown and the arbitrary arrests of activists.

The activists, accused of being “urban naxals”, have been under house arrest for the past three weeks.

Universities send students for research in Naxalites areas, many people go there for research purposes. That doesn’t make them part of banned organisation, observed Justice Chandrachud

Grover further argued before the three member bench consisting of CJI Dipak Misra, Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, that “the raid application filed by Pune Police was rejected by the court and yet it was conducted without any procedure being followed.”

He asserted that only designated authority can issue raid orders and that wasn't done in the case. Concurring with defence lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s points, Grover questioned the release of prime accused Milind Ekbote in the case.

Earlier, defending the five activists, Singhvi had argued that “the case was based on cooked up evidence and the letters produced before the court appear Ex facie to be fabricated.”

In the opening remarks of his argument, he said that the initial FIRs did not mention any larger conspiracy. Maintaining that the so-called letters quoted by the Maharashtra Police even name Professor GN Saibaba, who is in jail since 2017, he questioned, “whether Saibaba was writing, or receiving Maoist-activities related letters from government-run prison cells.” He submitted that a SIT was required so that public confidence would be built up in law.

Justice DY Chandrachud: “Liberty cannot be subjected to conjectures. There has to be a distinction between the opposition and over throwing of a government by Constitutionally impermissible methods”

Demanding that the Supreme Court should ensure the liberty of persons against illegal detention, another defence lawyer Ashwini Kumar told the Supreme Court that “the criminal prosecution seems to be mala fide and arbitrary.”

During the argument, Justice Chandrachud told Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is representing the Maharashtra government, “Universities send students for research in Naxalites areas, many people go there for research purposes. That doesn't make them part of banned organisation.”

“Let us make a clear-cut distinction between an opposition and attempts to create disturbance, overthrow government etc..your documents also name universities, prominent social science institute. Are they all involved?” Justice Chandrachud observed, adding that “Liberty cannot be subjected to conjectures. There has to be a distinction between the opposition and over throwing of a government by Constitutionally impermissible methods.”

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