The Sessions court Wednesday granted interim relief to two Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) students who were among the 51 people booked on charges of sedition for shouting slogans in support of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam at an LGBTQ rally at Azad Maidan on February 1.
This comes a day after the Bombay High Court granted interim relief to a 22-year-old student, Urvashi Chudawala, also booked in the same case. On February 7, Chudawala had moved the high court two days after the sessions court rejected her anticipatory bail plea. The Bombay High Court had on Tuesday granted interim protection from arrest to her.
Imam, a PhD student of JNU was arrested in a sedition case lodged across several states for alleged “inflammatory” speeches made during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
The two students, aged 24 and 22, in their anticipatory bail plea filed by lawyer Vijay Hiremath stated that they had not shouted any slogan, but only stood waving a flag. They also said that being conscious members of the queer community, they went to participate in the march held at Azad Maidan on February 1.
The two applicants are pursuing masters degree programme from TISS.
Hiremath told the court that the two students, who belong to Kerala, do not understand Hindi well and, therefore, did not understand many of the slogans raised at the event. “The applicants did not even understand the meaning of the slogan which has attracted the penal action, leave alone having the intention to raise them,” the plea states.
On February 3, Azad Maidan police had filed an FIR against Chudawala and 50 other unknown persons, including the two students, who were alleged to have attended the march and seen in videos of sloganeering, on charges including IPC section 124A (sedition), for which the maximum punishment is life imprisonment.
“The videos are clear that the applicants do not take part in the sloganeering, but were just waving the flag,” the plea states. The videos of sloganeering have been circulated widely on social media.
On February 6, police officials from the Azad Maidan police station visited the TISS campus and served the two students a notice to report to the police station under section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code for recording their statement. The section pertains to the powers of a police officer to require the attendance of witnesses.
Stating that they were willing to cooperate with the police, the two students, however, said in their plea that they were apprehensive of being arrested once they went to the police station and hence approached the court seeking pre-arrest bail.
They added that in any event, judgments by the Supreme Court and High Court, have ruled that charges of sedition cannot be invoked if the words, representations or signs, did not incite any violence or public disorder in the society, which the alleged slogan had not done. They also said that police had not followed guidelines mentioned in a Bombay High Court judgment in 2015, for the police to follow while invoking sedition charges.
The sessions court granted them interim relief till February 26 and directed Azad Maidan police to file its reply on the pleas. The court also directed the two applicants to appear before the police on two days.
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