The Bombay High Court Tuesday granted interim relief to Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) student Urvashi Chudawala who was booked on charges of sedition for allegedly shouting slogans in support of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam.
Mumbai Police on February 3 had booked Chudawala along with 50 others for allegedly shouting slogans in support of Imam, who had been arrested on sedition charges, during an LGBTQ rally at Azad Maidan on February 1. Imam was arrested on January 28 for allegedly making inflammatory speeches during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Chudawala had on February 7 moved the high court after the sessions court rejected her anticipatory bail plea.
On Tuesday, a single-judge bench of Justice S K Shinde while hearing the pre-arrest bail plea, extended Chudawala interim protection from arrest. The bench, however, noted that in the event of arrest, the TISS student should be released on a personal bond of Rs 20,000. It also directed Chudawala to visit the police station on February 12 and 13 between 11 am and 2 pm.
Putting more conditions on the applicant, Justice Shinde asked Chudawala not to leave Mumbai and Thane without the permission of the court. Chudawala has also been directed to deposit her mobile phone handset and two SIM cards to the investigation officer Wednesday.
Senior counsel Mihir Desai and advocate Vijay Hiremath, appearing for the TISS student, informed the court that Facebook account of Chudawala had been deactivated fearing trolling. “Slogans raised in support of Sharjeel were not the same ones for which he (Imam) was booked under the sedition law. Moreover, the applicant will have to appear for an exam on Friday and pre-arrest bail should be granted,” Desai said.
Opposing the plea, public prosecutor Deepak Thakare said the applicant was shouting slogans while looking at her mobile phone and they were in support of Sharjeel, who was booked under sedition law in Delhi and Guwahati. Meanwhile, police have submitted, in sealed cover, an intelligence report based on which the permission for the Queer Azadi March at August Kranti Maidan was refused.
Justice SK Shinde inquired if police had followed guidelines laid down by the High Court earlier, which require written legal opinion to be taken as a precondition while invoking a sedition case under Section 124-A of the IPC. Thakare said while they have not sought an opinion from a law officer from the district and the public prosecutor of the state, police will soon obtain one.
Justice Shinde had earlier appeared as a government pleader in a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking an examination of the legal position on the invocation of sedition charges. The PIL order prompted the state to codify guidelines that police should follow before filing a case of sedition. The PIL had come up following the invocation of sedition against a cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi.
In 2015, a set of guidelines were drawn, but they were subsequently withdrawn by the state government.
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