OVER SEVEN months after they were arrested on charges of sedition for their alleged comments “prejudicial to national integration” on social media and quarrelling with a fellow student — in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack — three Kashmiri students have been released on bail in Bengaluru.
Saying that the alleged “anti-national” comments were made in the course of a private conversation on social media, Additional District and Sessions Judge Sayed Baleegur Rahaman granted bail on September 20.
“The said conversation is purely a private conversation that took place between the students… in their Facebook account. Whether the conversation between the students would come within the purview of Section 124 (A) and 153 (B) of the Indian Penal Code has to be considered by this court on merits,’’ the court said.
“Except the Facebook conversation between friends, no other serious allegation is made against accused No. 1 to 3. Considering the age of accused No. 1 to 3 and the fact that they are pursuing their studies, I feel that in the interest of the future of the accused No. 1 to 3, they deserve to be enlarged on bail with stringent conditions as they hail from Jammu and Kashmir,’’ the additional district and sessions court said.
Haris Manzoor (20), Gowhar Mushtaq (21), both students of the Spurthy College of Nursing, and Zaqir Maqbool (23), a student of the Chinai College of Nursing, were arrested on February 16 on the basis of a complaint filed by the Spurthy Nursing College principal, Babu Dharmarajan, who said they had posted an anti-Army message on social media, which led to a brawl in the hostel.
The Suryanagar Police in Anekal taluk of Bangalore Rural district registered a case under Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (supporting an unlawful activity), and under Indian Penal Code Sections 124 A (sedition), 153 A (promoting enmity between groups), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (provoking breach of peace).
On March 19, a principal sessions court had dismissed their bail pleas on the ground that their comments could “damage” the “integrity” of India. “Taking into consideration the highly dangerous nature of the content uploaded on their Facebook wall, grave nature of the offences alleged and also on account of the fact that such activities are calculated to cause damage to the integrity of India and create disaffection against India in the minds of people, I am of the view that the petitioners are not entitled to be granted bail,’’ Principal Sessions Judge P Krishna Bhat had said.
The students’ advocates approached the additional district and sessions court with a fresh bail plea after the police filed a chargesheet in the case under IPC Sections 124 (A) (sedition), 153 (B) (prejudicial to national integration) and Section 13 of UAPA (unlawful activity).
“After the chargesheet was filed, we withdrew petitions we had filed in the high court and obtained bail in the sessions court. The students have been released,’’ Melanie Sebastian, an advocate for the students, said. The lawyers argued that the final year nursing students would miss their final exams if they remained in prison.
The students were released on execution of personal bonds for Rs 1 lakh each, a local surety, and a cash surety of Rs 25,000 each. They have been told to report to the local police and not leave the region during trial of the case.
According to the FIR in the case, the three students, while responding to a Facebook post by another student, Koushik Debnath, on February 15, a day after the Pulwama attack, called the Indian Army “dogs, soldiers running here and there for money’’. In his complaint, the principal said: “For sending messages abusing our Indian Army and disrupting national integration, I request you to take appropriate legal action’’.
The students were also accused of attacking Debnath in the hostel on February 15.