March 16, 2021 2:14:43 am
The three Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists who approached a Delhi court for anticipatory bail in a sedition case in connection with a toolkit on the farmers’ protest Monday denied any Khalistani links to their work and said that tweeting on a public issue or talking to someone from Pakistan was not wrong.
Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana, who was hearing the applications filed by the three accused — Shantanu Muluk, an engineer, Nikita Jacob, a lawyer, and Subham Kar Chaudhari, a chef — disposed of their applications after the prosecution argued that the investigation was at a nascent stage. The defence counsel withdrew their applications on the condition that if the investigating agency finds the arrest of the accused imminent and unavoidable then, seven working days advance notice shall be served on them.
Muluk, represented by his lawyer Vrinda Grover, said he joined the investigation on February 22 and was interrogated for 18 days. The court was told that Muluk handed over his iPhone, iPad and a Dell laptop, his mother’s mobile phone, passwords to his social media accounts and his bank details along with that of his family members.
“If there is any conspiracy material to unearth, I am available and they have interrogated me vigorously… 150 questions were asked in writing in initial stages. Comprehensive substantive answers to all them have been given. I have been confronted with Disha Ravi and Nikita Jacob and in the confrontation whatever I have stated has been further confirmed and corroborated there is no contradiction which has emerged,” he said.
Grover denied that Muluk had “any association, contact, communication” with Sikhs for Justice, a banned organisation.
“There is nothing in their reply stating I have any link with them. Poetic Justice Foundation is not a banned organisation. I did not have any association with the Poetic Justice Foundation…,” Grover told the court.
Grover told the court that Muluk joined a Zoom call following an invitation received by the organisation, Extinction Rebellion India from Ask India Why campaign. He joined the zoom call along with a colleague on 11 January.
“I joined this Zoom call. There are 70-80 people. I do not know anyone except my XR colleague. I am a listener in this meeting. In that call there are no remarks about Khalistan or secessionist ideology. Who MO Dhaliwal is, what he thinks or what his ideology is, I don’t know. I learn later from media reports that he has an ideology and has some support for Khalistan. I have never spoken, I have no direct communication with him. We live in a global world. Exchange of ideas is without jurisdiction… Climate crises that we are in today will not be resolved through national territories; that is why our Prime Minister joins the Paris Accord,” Grover told the court.
Grover told the court that Muluk created a Gmail account and a blank Google document.
“The term ‘owner’ is misleading… It’s a common ownership… starting a Google Document is not a crime. Here there is no IPR violation that has taken place… It would be misleading and erroneous to say that I am the owner. The edit access is given to everyone. I have not written, edited or done anything on the toolkit since 18 January. The IP address shows, they can also see after which date I never touched or edited the toolkit… Does that at all by any stretch invoke any offence laid out against me?” Grover told the court.
Grover told the court that Muluk added six things including a map of all farmer related protests in the country made from material available on the internet, a link for sample photos to show solidarity, captions, and a sample to write to a Government representative.
“if any person wishes to write to a government representative or call them to say that there is a concern with farm laws, there is a sample he made. This was non-violent, democratic…,” Grover told the court.
“If what I’ve collected is protected speech… there’s no 153A. There are no two communities. To say that I started a process which may lead to something, that process should also be illegal. The propensity to cause violence is completely missing. The threshold is not being met at all,” Grover told the court.
On Muluk’s messages saying that the Prime Minister must be pressed for a speedy and peaceful resolution, Grover told the court, “Would it not be an appropriate thing to do? It is something the parliament is saying. Where is the incitement to violence. Tweeting on a public issue is not wrong. What is so incendiary about these?”
“I am not asking anyone to mobilise the mob, to come to the streets. I am only saying add your voice, let’s get this issue resolved? Where is the incendiary commentary here?” Grover added.
The court was told that Muluk had visited Tikri border where he worked to turn some toilets into eco-friendly ones and worked at the Bhagat Singh library. “Entire toolkit has no call for violence anywhere… I do not join the tractor rally on any route… There is no evidence to show my presence there. I did not make any speeches. I go there as an ordinary citizen,” Grover told the court.
Senior advocate Rebecca John who argued on behalf of lawyer Nikita Jacob told the court that a WhatsApp group was formed on December 6, 2020 by climate activist Disha Ravi and Jacob was made a member on 11 January. She exited the group on 24 January, 2021.
“This WhatsApp group is on my phone. I have not deleted, they have access to it. I was informed about my colleague in XR (about the Zoom meeting).On the issue of my participation, my house in Bombay had been raided on 11 February and in that context I gave a detailed statement to the police. It’s a 13 page statement… They seized my electronic devices. I admit that I participated in the Zoom call. I did work on the toolkit along with others. My argument is — so what?” John told the court.
John told the court that Jacob hosted an Instagram live with an agricultural specialist from Karnataka. Later, on February, 3 Ravi shared the toolkit with Greta Thunberg.
“Since it was an outdated doc, I did live edit that toolkit on 3-4th night. It was visible who was editing. Nikita got a lot of hate. Disha deletes the old document and shares the updated version with Greta,” John told the court.
John told the court that Jacob did not come to Delhi and does not know Muluk, who she met for the first time during questioning.
“Prosecuting agency should be mindful of the language that they use.What is the basis… because the toolkit has a hyperlink to websites of genocide watch? Let’s not get over excited here. These are international organisations at work. Even if it was not hyperlinked, anyone can go to Genocide Watch and see the report. It collates information. Have you seen what genocide watch says about America? White extremism, growing hostility towards undocumented workers… We don’t have to believe it. The country surely has a larger heart and intellect than to be affected by a public group…,” John told the court.
While referring to some tweets alleged to be objectionable by the police, John told the court that it had 15 tweets and 29 likes. “So much for disinformation. Is this going to affect the body and soul of the republic of India? Some tweets with 15 likes…,” John told the court.
John told the court that Jacob’s participation in a Zoom meeting “is not an act of criminal conspiracy… my act of participating in the toolkit and even hyperlinking it is not sedition. I was not hiding behind any shadow. I was doing it (edits) for the world to see.”
John told the court that the “Delhi police in its wisdom went into rumour mongering”. “What is their case? That I spread rumours? They are saying rumour mongering has potential for violence… when they talk about war it is a metaphor; understand English language before you make accusations.”
John ended her arguments by stating, “There is not an iota of evidence to show we incited violence. At best we are at the stage of discussion.”
ASJ Rana asked John that some of the messages mention that the movement should be evergreen and asked John to explain this. The court said that as per the police, “this evergreen means this principle idea is secessionist. They claim that this evergreen that they have principal secessionist tendencies”.
John told the court, “Every moment has a certain hashtag. In the #MeToo movement the hashtag was it happened to me as well…”
Advocate Soutik Banerjee, who argued on behalf of Subham Kar Chaudhari, told the court, “I am surprised that the averments made in the (police) reply are a cut-paste on allegations against the other two… I was not part of the Zoom call on 11 January. I was not ever in any communication with MO Dhaliwal or even passively interacted with them. I am the South Asian regional liaison with XR. My job is to ensure better coordination and communication between chapters in South Asia… I have not opened the toolkit. I have not even seen it. My only role is where they say I forwarded the link of this tweet bank to some people in Pakistan. They have not put it on record. As a liaison person who forwards to multiple persons. I am not specifically sending it to a person in Pakistan… Merely sending a person in Lahore does not taint me.”
Banerjee also referred to a contract between Chaudhari and UK-based Climate 2025 which gave him a living expense. He told the court, “My liberty is at stake… they have callously cut paste allegations… Just because you want to drag me in to get a Pakistan angle.”
On the WhatsApp group, Banerjee told the court that Chaudhari left it before the “document came into existence.”
“Even our Prime Minister met the Pakistan Prime Minister on his birthday. Talking to someone from Pakistan is not a crime,” Banerjee told the court.
Additional Public Prosecutor Atul Srivastava opposed the anticipatory bail applications by telling the court that “these people are doing something noble, does it give them permission to do something illegal?”
Srivastava read out Muluk’s tweets on detentions in Kashmir and told the court, “This gives a bad smell. Don’t provoke someone.”
Srivastava told the court, “It is your case that they had gone to extend solidarity but your hidden agenda is you are trying to take benefit of this movement. It is almost like a ladder we will keep trying to incite people.”
Srivastava told the court that many of the hashtags created by the accused were “used by Pakistani people”.
“This shows your intention or your inclination towards creating such kind of a situation. I don’t mind you using Vande Mataram hashtag. There is money coming from Jedah. It is not coming from England,” Srivastava told the court.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Anyesh Roy told the court: “In this case… specific things were deleted. Entire logs of his (Muluk’s) device from July have been deleted. He deleted specific details, location deleted outside of Pune. These was not outside of public domain. These were the data present in an encrypted protected by passwords… This person has deleted specific details during the period. He was using Apple and Ipad. He was using that iPad and the iCloud account has been changed… This is antecedent of the person. He has taken all measures to remove.”
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