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Sunday, Nov 27, 2022

Guilty, By Association

Life imprisonment verdict for G.N. Saibaba and others for links with Maoists raises questions.

 Guilty by association, DU professor GN Saibaba, naxal activities GN Saibaba, DU professor naxal activities, SC naxal activities, sessions court convicts five naxal activities, indian express editorial

Is membership of a proscribed organisation sufficient to establish guilt? A sessions court in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, has held that it is, while handing life imprisonment to five persons, including Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba, under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the IPC for aiding and abetting Naxal activities earlier this week. A sixth convict was handed 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. The court upheld the argument that electronic evidence and literature seized from the accused proved they were members of the CPI(Maoist), a banned organisation, and hence liable for prosecution under the UAPA. The prosecution did not cite any instance of the accused participating in Maoist action, but argued that CPI(Maoist) was a terrorist organisation and by association the accused was guilty of terrorism.

Such a method of reasoning where guilt is ascribed by association has been rejected by the Supreme Court in multiple cases. The Supreme Court had held in Arup Bhuyan vs State of Assam that, “Mere membership of a banned organisation will not incriminate a person unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence or does an act intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence.” The sessions judge held that whereas in Arup Bhuyan the only material against the accused was a confessional statement, there was text and electronic evidence to suggest that the accused (Saibaba and others) were involved in a conspiracy to further the terrorist activities of the CPI (Maoist). The sessions court’s reading is unpersuasive: The apex court had laid down a principle that protected the rights of a citizen, including his right to free speech, independent of the actions of an organisation that he is accused or deemed to be a part of.

The material submitted by the prosecution against Saibaba and others sought to link them to the CPI(Maoists) through their association with the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF). Possession of Naxal literature, pamphlets, electronic propaganda material, “which were to be used for inciting the people to create violence to cause public disorder”, may be sufficient reason to assume a person’s association with an organisation, but it is insufficient to judge him guilty of actions carried out by other members of the outfit.

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First published on: 10-03-2017 at 12:06:19 am
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