Dissent can’t be said to be against sovereignty of nation, says judge

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday dismissed the Central Bureau of Investigation’s charge that social activists Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand were a threat to national security.

Sending a strong message to the government, Justice Mridula Bhatkar, while granting anticipatory bail to the activist duo, observed, “A citizen may conduct social activities and may have a different point of view which may not be liked by the government. However, in a democratic State, a citizen may have his or her own point of view and rather it is the duty of the State to protect that right to have a different view.”

“A dissenting view cannot be said to be against the sovereignty of the nation. It may be against the policy of the government. [Being] against the government and [being] against the sovereignty of the nation are two different concepts.”

According to the CBI, Sabrang Communications and Publishing Pvt. Ltd (SCPPL) run by Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Anand received funds to the tune of $ 2,90,000 from the U.S.-based Ford Foundation. This was in violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

‘No threat to sovereignty’

Ms. Setalvad’s counsel Aspi Chinoy called the FIR against her “mala fide” and “almost Kafkaesque.”

“It is the result of the prosecutions launched and convictions obtained in what happened in Gujarat [2002 riots],” Mr. Chinoy said.

In an affidavit before a sessions court earlier and in arguments opposing the anticipatory bail application, the CBI said Ms. Setalvad was a threat to national security.

“Stoking tensions”

Additional Solicitor-General Anil Singh, appearing for the CBI, cited a letter of the Gujarat government, which said that the SCPPL was a “proxy organisation” cultivated by the Foundation with “some long-term plan.” He also contended that the Foundation was “stoking religious tensions” and keeping the “2002 riot incidents alive.”

However, rejecting this contention, Justice Bhatkar held, “After going through the papers and the submissions, prima facie I am unable to find out any threat to sovereignty, integrity and security of the State or to the strategic, economic or public interest. The submission that it [offence] is harmful to the State cannot be appreciated at this stage.”

Though the court prima facie found violation of law in the case against Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Anand, it granted them anticipatory bail on the grounds that their custodial interrogation was not necessary as the case was based on documentary evidence of accounts and they were not likely to flee from justice.

If arrested, the duo can be released on a surety of Rs. 20,000 each. They have to take the court’s permission to travel abroad and have to intimate the CBI if they leave Mumbai.