The Supreme Court has granted protection to Akhil Gogoi, an independent MLA from Assam, against arrest in a case related to the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, which is being investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
The legislator, who had reportedly been outspoken against the central government during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, approached the Supreme Court against the February 9 ruling of the Gauhati High Court, which allowed the special NIA court in Assam to proceed with framing charges against him in one of the two cases.
The Supreme Court has directed the standing counsel for the state (NIA) to be notified and consider granting protection to the petitioner from arrest in response to the contested order. The notice is returnable on February 24, 2023. Following arguments from senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, who represented the lawmaker, a bench of justices V Ramasubramanian and Pankaj Mithal ordered on Tuesday that in the interim, Gogoi will be protected against arrest in connection with FIR bearing … dated December 14, 2019, Police Station NIA, Guwahati.
Previously, the high court had granted permission to the NIA to request charges be framed against Gogoi and three of his associates in a special court in relation to anti-CAA protests and suspected Maoist links. The high court had issued its order on the appeal of the NIA, which had challenged the ruling of a special NIA court that had exonerated the four individuals.
A division bench of the high court, consisting of Justices Suman Shyam and Malasri Nandi, had instructed the agency to proceed with framing charges after reopening the case. Gogoi’s attorney, Santanu Borthakur, had stated, “The high court has granted the NIA’s request to reopen the case and level charges against the four individuals. The matter will now be reheard in the Special NIA Court.” The MLA has subsequently approached the apex court to contest this decision.
The remaining three accused in the NIA case were Dhaijya Konwar, Bittu Sonowal, and Manash Konwar, all of whom were granted bail and released from jail. While Special NIA Judge Pranjal Das cleared Gogoi and the three others of all charges, the court refused to grant bail to Gogoi, and he was released only after spending 567 days in prison. The special NIA court has instructed the Assam legislator and the three other accused to attend a hearing on February 23.
The NIA is currently investigating two cases involving Gogoi in relation to the anti-CAA protests. In one of these cases, Gogoi was granted bail by the special NIA court, a decision that was subsequently upheld by the Gauhati High Court in April 2021 despite the NIA’s challenge.
However, Gogoi was unable to secure bail in the second case, which pertained to anti-CAA violence and was also under investigation by the NIA. As a result, he remained in judicial custody.
On July 1, 2021, the special NIA court ordered the release of Gogoi and his three associates, who had been accused of involvement in the violent anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests in December 2019. The court found that there was no evidence to suggest that their “talk of blockade” posed a threat to the country’s economic security or amounted to “a terrorist act.” Following this decision, the NIA lodged an appeal with the Gauhati High Court, requesting that the agency be permitted to level charges, including sedition charges under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
The special NIA court issued a strongly worded judgement, stating that it found the conduct and approach of the investigating authority in the case to be “discouraging”, to say the least. The court emphasized that it had high expectations from a premier investigating agency like the NIA, which is entrusted with the crucial task of protecting the country and its citizens from the threat of terrorism.
In its order, the special NIA court expressed hope that such high standards would be upheld by the NIA, and that the court’s experience with the agency in this case would be an exception rather than the norm. The court made it clear that, in the interests of justice, it expects the NIA to maintain the highest standards in its work.
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