The Delhi HC questioned the legality of the arrest and noted that the police refused to provide a translated document, which meant that Navlakha did not know why he was arrested.
Pune: In a country-wide witch hunt for activists and human rights defenders conducted by Maharashtra Police, serious lapses have been found in following statutory procedures by authorities.
The Delhi HC questioned the legality of the arrest and noted that the police refused to provide a translated document which meant that Navlakha did not know why he was arrested. Trade unionist and activist Sudha Bharadwaj was also arrested in the same manner.
On August 28, police raided homes of several social activists across India, under the guise of investigating them for being involved in planning and instigating the Bhima Koregaon violence on January 1, 2018, in Pune. One of them was Gautam Navlakha, a civil liberties activist with People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR.)
“The Delhi High Court on Wednesday questioned the “legality of arrest” of rights activist and journalist Gautam Navlakha by the Maharashtra police pointing out lapses in following statutory procedures, including failure to produce translated documents carrying the grounds of arrest,” reported The Hindu.
“A Bench of Justices S. Muralidhar and Vinod Goel was also critical of the fact that a magistrate court here granted transit remand to transfer Mr. Navlakha to a Pune court without even bothering to understand the offence against him. “Every minute a person remains in custody is a matter of concern,” the Bench said as it noted that the Maharashtra police’s failure to carry translated document of the grounds of arrest meant that Mr. Navlakha did not know why he was arrested,” the report said.
“The Bench asked how the magistrate court could have passed the transit remand order when the document produced by the Maharashtra police was in Marathi. It wondered how the magisterial court could have “applied its mind” before issuing the transit remand order without the translated documents or going through the case diary. Since the case involved the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the Bench said the magistrate court should be extra careful as the stringent provision of the Act makes it “almost impossible” for a person to get bail,” it said.
“(Under UAPA) bail provisions are stringent and, therefore, the court has to be satisfied as it will have serious consequence on the liberty of the person… A sheaf of paper has been produced (in Marathi), most of which the court does not understand. There has been non-application of the mind. The court (of CMM) did not do what it was supposed to do,” Justice Muralidhar said while hearing a habeas corpus plea filed after Navlakha’s arrest,” The Indian Express reported.
“The bench was dictating its order when it was informed that the Supreme Court had directed that the five arrested activists be kept under house arrest until the matter is heard next on September 6. The bench said that given the development, it would not be appropriate for it to proceed further with its own order. It asked the lawyers to return Thursday,” the report added.
In Bharadwaj’s case, the Pune Police from Maharashtra breached law and procedure rules, out of contempt of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. They thwarted the stay granted against the transit remand of Sudha Bhardwaj well past midnight and attempted to forcibly whisk her away to Pune.
Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, renowned for her committed advocacy on the democratic rights of workers and Adivasis was first ‘detained’, then ‘arrested’ following a Panch document shown to her in Marathi (a language she cannot comprehend) in the early hours of Tuesday, August 28. Neither the warrant for her arrest nor the FIR was given to her in the language that she could read. She was with her young daughter, alone in her residence at the time. The police seized her laptop, pen drive, and external hard drives leading to genuine fears of “their tampering with data.”
When Bharadwaj’s advocate Vrinda Grover apprised the local CJM (Chief Judicial magistrate) of the HC Order; around midnight, he passed the order restoring house arrest. As of now, advocate Sudha Bharadwaj cannot be taken out of Haryana till August 30. She is under house arrest in her home in Badarpur. She was in close touch with Inspector Shinde from the posse of the Pune police informing him of the developments in the court. Yet, the Pune Police, in its wisdom, chose to act in a way, that can only be termed as not just high-handed but also as contempt of High Court.
Due process was violated
Section 141 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code grants law enforcement the right, to issue notice and call for questioning, any persons they are investigating for any crime. There was no need at all not to follow this procedure in the present case. These are prominent advocates and activists, their movements are known, and hence this procedure ought to have been followed, says Vijay Hiremath speaking to us. Technically section 141 is meant to apply to those offences for which punishment is less than seven years but there was no need not to follow it in this case.
“Similar raids were conducted earlier this year at the homes of Dalit activists and lawyers after labelling them all as “Maoists”! Advocate Surendra Gadling who is best known for pursuing justice in the aftermath of the Khairlanji massacre and activist Rona Wilson were among those whose homes were raided. FIRs were filed against folk singers of the Kabir Kala Manch under similar pretexts,” reported Sabrang India.
“Advocate Mihir Desai who has often represented human rights defenders in court, says, “This is vindictive action with the aim of chilling civil society.” This is clearly a witch hunt where people are first labelled as Naxals or Maoists and then falsely accused of anything from instigating riots to waging war against the nation. The raids are nothing but an intimidation tactic against those who are empowering the voiceless and the marginalized to demand their rights from those who have historically benefited from oppressing them,” it added.
"The entire case is a political ploy against political dissent by this vindictive and cowardly government, which is bent upon shielding the real culprits of Bhima Koregaon and thus divert attention from its own scams and failures which stretch from Kashmir to Kerala,” Gautam Navlakha said in a statement issued by PUDR.
"A political trial must be fought politically and I welcome this opportunity. I have to do nothing. It is for the Maharashtra police, working at the behest of their political masters, to prove their case against me, and my comrades who too have been arrested,” he said.
He said PUDR has collectively and fearlessly fought for more than 40 years for the cause of democratic rights and he has covered many such trials as part of the organisation.
"Now I myself will be a witness to a political trial with a ringside view,” he said and also wrote a few lines of a popular revolution song, "Tu zinda hai toh zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar.”
“Earlier in the day, Navlakha accused the government of “shielding the real culprits” of the violence in Bhima Koregaon earlier this year. In a statement, he called his arrest a “ploy against political dissent” by a “vindictive and cowardly government”. “A political trial must be fought politically and I welcome this opportunity,” Navlakha said. “I have to do nothing. It is for the Maharashtra Police, working at the behest of their political masters, to prove their case against me and my comrades,” Scroll reported.
Varavara Rao, Sudha Bhardwaj, Ferreira, Vernon Gonzalves and Gautam Navalakha were arrested under IPC Section 153 (A), which relates to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place or birth, residence, language and committing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony. There were also arrested under some other sections of the IPC, along with Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly supporting the Naxalite movement.
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