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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Speedy hearings in SC: relief for Maoist-terror accused Sudha Bharadwaj, Tripura fake news accused journalists

The apex court upheld the bail granted to Maoist-terror accused Sudha Bharadwaj by the Bombay HC (High Court) while setting aside a plea by the NIA (National Investigation Agency) in relation to the Bhima Koregoan case.

SC upholds bail to Sudha Bharadwaj

The SC not just upheld the decision of the HC but also questioned the lower court’s decision of extending Sudha Bharadwaj’s detention. As per a ToI report, “A bench of Justices U U Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi did not find any error in the HC verdict and remarked that there was no need to interfere. It said that the only issue involved in the case was whether the court, which had allowed the application for extension of her detention in November 2018, was competent or not”.

The bench refused to accept the argument of Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi that the lower court was indeed competent, stating that only special courts which were aware of intricacies of laws like the anti-terror law UAPA could take cognizance of the same. It must be noted that it was in such a hurry to grant bail to the Maoist, the SC bench dismissed the NIA plea even before hearing Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the counsel of Bharadwaj.

Bhardwaj has been booked under stringent provisions of the UAPA for conspiracy to topple the government, and is part of 15 arrested accused and 6 absconding accused in the Elgar Parishad/Bhima Koregaon case. The NIA charge-sheet says all of them are active members of the banned terrorist organisation Communist Party of India (Maoist) and have been involved in furthering its activities.

Other accused are – ‘activists’ Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut; academics Anand Teltumbde, Shoma Sen, and Hany Babu; ‘activist-journalist’ Gautam Navlakha; Telugu poet-litterateur P Varavara Rao; ‘activist-artists’ Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe, and Jyoti Jagtap; and ‘activist-lawyer’ Arun Ferreira. Another accused, Christian priest Stan Swamy passed away recently. The 6 absconding accused including Teltumbde’s younger brother Milind, who is a top Naxal operative and was killed last month along with 26 other Maoist terrorist by security forces in Gadchiroli.

While granting default bail to Bharadwaj, the Bombay HC had denied bail to Varavara Rao, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, as they “did not avail of the right to be released on default bail.” They are lodged at Taloja Central Jail.

The common charges against the accused include sections 153A (promoting enmity), 505(1)(B) (public mischief), 121 (waging or attempting to wage a war or abetting), 121A (conspiracy to commit certain offences against the state), 124A (sedition) read with 34 (common intent) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), along with sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on terrorist activities. The maximum punishment they face is the death penalty under IPC section 121.

Other charges include organising funds through the banned organisation, and collecting arms and ammunition to destabilise the government and “to attempt or cause death of public functionary”. This last charge is believed to be a conspiracy to assassinate PM Modi in a “Rajiv Gandhi-type incident”.

SC stays proceedings against journalists accused of inciting riots

The apex court also gave relief to two journalists who have been accused of attempting to set Tripura ablaze by spreading fake news. The SC bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud has stayed further proceedings on the FIRs registered against Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha working for the HW News Network.

The bench has also asked the state government to file its counter-affidavit within four weeks. The lower court had granted bail to the two on November 15. Two FIRs were registered against both the journalists, one on November 14 and the second on November 18. They were charged under Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153A (promoting enmity between religious groups) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) of the Indian Penal Code.

High-profile Lutyens’ lawyer Siddharth Luthra appeared for the petitioners and contended that the FIRs were “really untenable and not justified”. The plea also termed the police action “targeted abuse of criminalising the reporting by petitioners and its correspondents/ reporters…” and will have a “chilling effect” on free speech. Luthra was ASG (Additional Solicitor General) during the UPA regime, represented the late Arun Jaitley in a defamation case against Arvind Kejriwal, and is currently also defending TMC in several matters like the Narada corruption case.

As far as the Tripura journalists are concerned, the Tripura police confirmed that both had fabricated news about attacks on mosques and burning of Quran in a bid to instigate Muslims. HW News Network where the duo work is also under the scanner and has been facing an IT (Income Tax) probe with its expenses being eleven times greater than its revenues raising questions regarding its source of income. Incidentally, late Vinod Dua also worked for HW News Hindi where he spewed anti-Hindu hate.  

“It makes little sense as to how the company with such poor financial performance manages expenses of more than ₹3 crore, and even manages to raise funds in the form of unsecured loans. It seems the entire expense of the company is paid by raising unsecured loans, as the company earned a very meagre revenue”, OpIndia had noted.

The manner in which the apex court has speeded up the process of granting relief to those accused of spreading terror and fake news raises several questions regarding the functioning of the judiciary. The judiciary also appears to be meting out differential treatment as is evident from the way Sadhvi Pragya was denied bail despite being eligible for the same.

In an interview, advocate Avinash Gupta who represented Sadhvi Pragya stated that she should have been granted bail within half an hour. He also said that those accused of terror on the ‘Hindu’ side are left to fend for themselves, while ‘the other side’ is more organised and flush with funds and activists, who defend people arrested on terror charges.

It reflects poorly on our judicial system when a Maoist-terror accused Sudha Bharadwaj is granted relief by the SC while the common citizen is forced to run from pillar to post for justice.

(Featured Image Source: ToI)

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