A day after police in Bengaluru detained several persons, including historian Ramachandra Guha, for defying prohibitory orders to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Karnataka High Court criticised the state government for imposing those curbs in the city under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
While hearing a clutch of petitions against the security clampdown, Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka asked: “Are you (state) going to ban each and every protest? How can you cancel permission previously granted following due course of process?… Can the state proceed on the assumption that every protest will become violent? Can an author or artist not hold a peaceful protest if he disagrees with any decision of the government.”
The bench, which also includes Justice Pradeep Singh Yerur, said it would check the legality of prohibitory orders implemented from December 19 to 21.
”We are not concerned with the subject of the protests, our concern is about the decision-making process, which undoubtedly curtails fundamental rights. It is indeed a preventive measure. The preventive measure has the effect of curtailing fundamental rights of citizens,” the bench said.
The High Court also directed the Advocate General Prabhuling K Navadgi to check whether police had initially granted permission for staging protests but later revoked it after imposing section 144. “It should be checked whether any permission to organisers previously granted to hold a peaceful protest was revoked in wake of Sec 144 order, (and if it) can be considered if they apply for fresh permission,” the court said.
The A-G said that prohibitory orders were based on “intelligence reports” received by the Police Commissioner. “Intelligence reports strongly indicated that these protests could turn into a law and order situation. (An) uncontrollable situation has taken place in Mangaluru, where two people have died,” he said.
The A-G argued that the state is a custodian of fundamental rights. “Reports were also there that people from Kerala have infiltrated into the state. The final concern of the state is safety of public property,” he said.
The bench was considering PILs filed by Congress Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Gowda, Jayanagar MLA Sowmya Reddy, and others challenging the curfew orders.
Apart from Guha, several protesters including Shivajinagar Congress MLA Rizwan Arshad were detained by police, and released later. The detentions prompted Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa to warn police against taking the law into their hands “without reason”.
While Thursday’s protests were peaceful in Bengaluru, two persons were killed in Mangalore allegedly in police firing during clashes with protesters.