Sedition and UAPA “not to minister to wounded vanities of government”

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Courts this week released activists with judgments and observations worth citing that uphold either the individual’s right to life and personal liberty in one case and refrain the State “to minister to (its) wounded vanity” in the other.

Indian climate change activist Disha Ravi accused of “posting and editing a toolkit” and “conspiring” against the government was released on bail after 9 days in custody by the Sessions Court in Delhi for “scanty and sketchy evidence”. The learned judge noted that “creation of a WhatsApp group or being editor of an innocuous ‘toolkit’ is not an offence.”

The Delhi Police had accused Ravi and “co-conspirators” of violence but failed to show that violent action had taken place and “there was nothing on record to suggest”  that Ravi “subscribed to any secessionist idea”. Further the link with the said toolkit had not been found to be objectionable.

The Court came down heavily on the Delhi Police saying “(Citizens) cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with the State policies.”

“The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the government” the court observed. The Court said that police’s resistance to bail was “ornamental” and said it cannot restrict a citizen’s personal liberty on the basis of “propitious anticipations”.

The Sessions Court of Delhi through its order has upheld the citizen’s constitutional freedom of speech and expression on “divergence of opinion” as well as their personal liberty that cannot be arbitrarily restrained by the police.

In another case, the Bombay High Court granted bail to 81-year-old poet and activist Varavara Rao who was in jail for a long and extended period under the UAPA. The Court invoked Article 21 of the Constitution on protection of life and personal liberty by releasing Rao on medical grounds. The court observed: “..this is a genuine and fit case to grant relief or else we will be abdicating our constitutional duties as a protector of human rights and right to health..”

In Rao’s case, the HC pointed out that the NIA court was yet to frame the charges and nobody was in a position to tell within how much time the trial would be completed. The court observed: “The question is as to whether they (undertrials) can be forced to live a subhuman existence behind bars only because they stand accused of serious offences.”

By granting Rao bail, the Court has not only re-empowered itself under Article 226 of the Constitution to issue directions, orders or writs for the enforcement of a Fundamental Right but it has also stopped state agencies to keep undertrials in jail forever by using stringent special laws.

In another similar case earlier this month, the Supreme Court held that statutory restrictions should not stop constitutional courts from granting bail on grounds of violation of Part III of the Constitution. It had asked the Courts to consider the inordinate delay in the start of the trial while considering bail applications. “Such an approach would safeguard against the possibility of provisions like Section 43­D (5) of UAPA being used as the sole metric for denial of bail or for wholesale breach of constitutional right to speedy trial,” it said.

While Courts have offered a ray of hope by upholding constitutional Freedoms the State which is concerned of threats to its government by protesters and dissenters alike might still continue to use sedition and UAPA laws and throw citizens before the slow wheels of justice. Is it not time that the pre-independence and imperial sedition laws and unconstitutional UAPA laws are done away with?

 

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