Several legal experts also weighed in on the arrest of Disha Ravi in the Greta Thunberg toolkit matter that invoked a slew of serious charges
“It is an attack on freedom of speech and expression. Each citizen has the right to oppose the government as long as the opposition is peaceful. I have gone through the toolkit which is available in the public domain and I see there is nothing in the toolkit that says anything with regard to violence and inciting people”, remarked (retd.) Justice Deepak Gupta of the Supreme Court during a discussion on NDTV.
This discussion was in connection with the arrest of a 21-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi who has been charged with sedition, criminal conspiracy and causing enmity between groups for editing an online document related to the farmers’ protest. The police claim that this google document/toolkit was created and accessed by Khalistani groups to cause unrest in India.
While accepting that the toolkit talks about supporting the farmers, and move from sites of protest to Delhi and then “go back” (to where they started from), he claimed that, “This toolkit is much before the agreement between the Delhi Police and the farmer protest, so I don’t see what is seditious in the document”.
He opined that one may choose to not agree with the farmers, and the protests led by them but to say that this is sedition, is “not understanding the law”. He referred to the Kedarnath judgment of the Supreme Court to elucidate the meaning of sedition to the viewers of the panel discussion on NDTV conducted by journalist Sreenivasan Jain on February 15.
In this case, the constitutionality of sedition law (section 124A of the Indian Penal Code) was challenged where the court upheld the provision and said that sedition can only be invoked when there is incitement to violence or public disorder. “But I don’t think the toolkit does anything like that”, he remarked.
He also explained the paradox behind bringing in the sedition law, which was an imperialistic law introduced by the British to rule India. But back in the home country, sedition is just a misdemeanour (a minor offence), punishable with two years of imprisonment whereas in India, it attracts life imprisonment. It is only in India that sedition law is being grossly misused, he noted.
While speaking to The Telegraph, Justice Gupta also drew parallels between the victimisation of the jailed environmentalist and actress Rhea Chakraborty who was hounded and vilified after the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. He said, “You kept a person behind bars for two days, three-five days, 10 days, 15 days, 20 day, a month. How do you return that or make up for the person’s lost liberty? There are channels and channels and in the news media she (Disha) is already like Rhea Chakraborty. This girl has already been proclaimed to be guilty and an anti-national. Just because we disagree, a person disagrees with the government, does not make that person anti-national”.
The NDTV debate also hosted Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra who highlighted the legalities of arrest and adequate legal representation as “that is what gives one access to justice”. He noted that such issues need to be looked at more critically because it is becoming a serious “procedural and human rights issue”. He agreed with former Supreme Court Judge, J. Gupta that sedition charges are being used at the drop of a hat!
Vikas Singh, another Senior Advocate on the panel, told Sreenivasan Jain that, “the State is becoming extremely intolerant to dissent. You can bring in sedition when there is a direct attempt to incite violence and this girl cannot be said to have incited violence”. He pointed out that there is no direct evidence in the public domain to support the charge of sedition against her.
Rebecca M. John, senior lawyer and criminal law expert weighed in on Disha Ravi’s arrest on February 14 (Sunday) and said, “I oppose weekend arrests and productions. I believe the Delhi Police could have waited for a Monday arrest and Tuesday production (before the Magistrate). By producing an accused person on a Sunday before a Duty Magistrate, you are basically ensuring that her legal rights are compromised because it is very difficult for lawyers to be present. Most lawyers don’t even know that their clients are going to be produced on a Sunday.”
She then added, “It seems that in this case the Delhi Police did inform a lawyer of her (Disha Ravi) choice. However, I can tell you from my experience of being a criminal lawyer in Delhi for the last 33 years-there is this cat and mouse game that constantly happens between the police and defence counsels. Defence counsels are never really informed about the time and place the production will take place and I think the confusion took place yesterday as well. That is why the lawyer of choice could not be present and that is a serious problem.”
Senior lawyer John also said that the manner in which she was brought to Delhi from Bangalore was problematic. Even though there is no mandate that a transit remand must be taken from Bangalore to have Disha produced in Delhi, she said that it is the “spirit of the law” that has been violated by the Police and not the “letter of the law”.