SC refuses to interfere with arrest of five activists

'No material facts to allege mala fide in the arrest of the five activists'

Sudha Bardwaj during raids. PTI file photo.

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to interfere with the arrest of five rights activists by the Maharashtra Police in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence case and declined to appoint a SIT to probe their arrest.

The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, in a 2:1 verdict, refused the plea seeking the immediate release of the activists.

The majority verdict said accused persons cannot choose which investigating agency should probe the case, and this was not a case of arrest merely because of difference in political views.

Justice A M Khanwilkar read out the majority verdict for himself and the CJI, while Justice D Y Chandrachud said he was unable to agree with the view of the two judges.

Justice Chandrachud, in his judgement dissenting with the majority, said the arrest of the five accused was an attempt by the state to muzzle dissent, and dissent is a symbol of a vibrant democracy.

The five activists -- Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha -- are under arrest at their respective homes since August 29.

The Maharashtra police had arrested them on August 28 in connection with an FIR lodged following a conclave -- 'Elgaar Parishad' -- held on December 31 last year that had later triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village in the state.

Prominent Telugu poet Rao was arrested on August 28 from Hyderabad, while activists Gonsalves and Ferreira were nabbed from Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj from Faridabad in Haryana and civil liberties activist Navlakha from Delhi.

The majority verdict said the protection of house arrest of the activists will remain in force for four more weeks to enable the accused to seek appropriate legal remedy at an appropriate legal forum.

It said arrests were not because of dissent of activists but there was prima facie material to show their link with banned CPI (Maoist) organisation.

The majority verdict disagreed with the PIL by historian Romila Thapar and others seeking the immediate release of five rights activist, with liberty to the accused to seek remedy in appropriate court.

Justice Khanwilkar said the protection of house arrest shall remain in force for four weeks to enable the accused to seek legal remedy.

He refrained from commenting on the case saying it may prejudice the case of accused and prosecution.

Justice Chandrachud said liberty cherished by the Constitution would have no meaning if persecution of the five activists is allowed without proper investigation.

He said the petition was genuine and lashes out at Maharashtra police for press meet, distribution of letters to media.

Justice Chandrachud said the court should proceed as if personal practices are essential but whether they are derogatory to liberty, dignity enshrined in Fundamental Rights.

He said letters alleged to be written by activist Sudha Bhardwaj were flashed on TV channels. Police selectively disclosing the probe details to media amounts to casting 

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