New Delhi: Lawyers on Thursday condemned the arrest of advocate Surendra Gadling in connection with the Koregaon violence that claimed one life last December and also for alleged Maoist links.
The lawyers, including Gadling’s colleagues in the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), called the arrest an act of “vendetta” by Maharashtra police for the clients he represents.
Gadling was arrested along with four others on Wednesday on the basis of an FIR by a Pune businessman accusing Dalit activist and journalist Sudhir Dhawale and members of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) cultural troupe of inciting violence during an event to commemorate the second centenary of the Battle of Koregaon that led to the end of the century-long Brahmin Peshwa rule in Pune.
Gadling represents KKM members and Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba in separate cases in which they are charged with working for the CPI (Maoist) – banned under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Those arrested on Wednesday have also been accused of violating the UAPA.
IAPL vice-president Sudha Bharadwaj told reporters at the Press Club of India in New Delhi on Thursday: “This is part of a new trend of trapping lawyers in cases they are fighting, like we have seen in the cases of Odisha’s Upendra Nayak, Tamil Nadu lawyer Murugan and Satyendra Chaubey of Chhattisgarh…. Being a lawyer for a political prisoner does not make you a criminal.”
She added: “The arrest of Surendra Gadling comes at a time when several Dalit lawyers like him have come forward to defend those arrested for the bandh (organised to protest) the violence against those who visited Bhima Koregaon on January 1. They look up to him as a role model.”
The IAPL and the KKM were named as fronts of the CPI (Maoist) in Maharashtra by the Union home ministry in February 2014.
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Gadling, who practices in the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court, had fought several cases of atrocities against Dalits. He had been made a special public prosecutor in a rape case, Bharadwaj said.
Gadling’s wife Minal, who has moved a habeas corpus petition before the Nagpur bench, told The Telegraph: “We were not informed about when he was being produced in court. Our lawyer could not represent him as he was produced in the judge’s house in the morning.”
The writ petition, due to be heard on Friday, alleges that Gadling’s arrest was the fulfilment of a threat that he “would be next”. The threat, the petition alleges, had been made by deputy superintendent of police Suhas Bawache, the officer who investigated Saibaba’s case.
In Pune, joint commissioner of police Ravindra Kadam – earlier Nagpur inspector-general of police who handled the Saibaba case – told reporters that cops had found documents establishing links between one of the five arrested persons and the Congress.
“In one document there are references (of links with the Congress), but till what extent it is right or wrong can be said after further investigation,” Kadam said.
The officer added that from the Delhi house of one of the arrested five – Rona Wilson, the public relations secretary of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners – a pen drive, a hard disk and some documents had been seized and sent for a forensic examination.
“We also got to know about Rona Wilson’s and Surendra Gadling’s connection with Maoists. Later we found that they had links with three others and arrested them. Surendra Gadling was presented before the court after he was arrested and we have been given his custody for eight days,” Kadam said.
Activists and students protested on Sansad Marg on Thursday demanding the release of all those arrested.
Senior Supreme Court advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan said: “It is natural for a lawyer’s computer to have material that the State thinks is wrong…. This kind of guilt by association is unjustified even under the UAPA. It is a direct assault on the right to legal representation.”
The CPM politburo demanded that the “Maharashtra government rescind these vindictive actions”.