“Country is its people and criticising Government is no Crime”, activists write to Governor

Activists jailed in the BhimaKoregaon case write to Maharashtra government

Image Courtesy: DNA

The nine activists and human rights defenders jailed for more than an year allegedly in connection with the violence that erupted at BhimaKoregaon on January 1, 2018, have written to Maharashtra’s Governor Ch. VidyasagarRao and have appealed “ if we really want democracy to function as per the Indian Constitution then all political prisoners should be released.”

The letter has been signed by advocates SurendraGadling, SudhaBhardwaj, Arun Ferreira, writer and activist SudhirDhawale, Professor ShomaSen, activists Vernon Gonsalves, Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut.

The activists have been inside Yerwada jail for the past year. While five of them were arrested on June 6, 2018, the rest on August 28, 2018.

“If the country is its people, then encouraging people to criticise and raise questions to the government chosen by the people, how can that be called seditious and anti-national?” asked the activists in the letter. The activists have been charged with different sections of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

The activists alleged that the public prosecutor and the police officers in charge were interested in media trial, and hence their bail hearings are conducted like ‘mini media trials’.Though, the supposed e-mailed letters in which it’s alleged that they have exchanged communication with Maoists have been freely handed over to the media, despite it [since their arrests] being an year, none of the electronic evidence has been shown to the accused. “This raises questions on the intentions of the prosecution,” said the activists.  Notably, in a blatant violation of procedures, the Pune police had conducted a press conference after the August arrests. And some media houses such a Zee News and Republic had flashed “the original letters”.

The first chargesheet in the case was filed in November 2018. The chargesheet ran upto 5000 pages and claimed that the accused had “active links” with the Maoists. It had further alleged that the accused had helped organise the ‘ElgaarParishad’ in December, 2017.

The case made by Pune police was that this hugely successful gathering, attended in huge numbers was the reason behind the violence in the aftermath of attacks on Dalit groups in BhimaKoregaon on January 1.

The supplementary chargesheet was filed earlier this year. This chargesheetaccused the rest of also participating in the “crime” and claimed that it relied heavily on electronic evidence especially from the laptops and mobile phones of the accused. A copy of the evidence hasn’t been made available to the accused or their lawyers yet.

The case has been marred with delay tactics all along, a condition specific to political prisoners and those charged with draconian laws. Gadling and Ferreira, who are also practising lawyers, have been appearing in person in the case. But the police has sparingly produced the accused in the court. During the entire election period, they were not produced in the court in the name of “election duty”.

Immediately after the first round of arrests, accused had moved applications for bail. Till today, the bail hearings have not been completed. Infact when the hearings were nearing completion, the trial court judge Kishore Vadanehas been transferred and a new judge has been appointed.

However, this hasn’t deterred the morale of the activists, Gadling, as per the jail authorities, has started a legal aid unit at Yerwada prison where he is lodged.

Moreover, the police conducted second round of raids at Jharkhand activist, Father Stan Swamy’s house in Ranchi, again in connection with the BhimaKoregaon incident.

Gadling, the jail authorities say, has started a legal aid unit at Yerwada prison where he is lodged.A senior jail official said, “He was instrumental in getting at least a dozen accused out in the past one year. Under-trials who do not have the wherewithal to fight their case have been approaching Gadling for legal advice and he has been willingly helping them draft their applications and build their arguments”.

Sabkasathsabkavikas– looking at the record of the government’s previous term, we are yet to see how effective it will be. It’s questionable, because if the government has to win everyone’s trust (Sabkavishwas), then it will have to show its commitment to constitutional values,” noted the activists. They added that requires that everyone is treated in a similar and justiciable manner. “Suppressing disagreements, views critical of government views oppositional viewpoints, charging them [the people] with treason or sedition and arresting them..is an open attack on the freedom of expression.”

The activists also commented on the spate of lynching incidents that took place immediately after the government was elected on a second term. They said, “They [mob lynching] are not being stopped and they continue to spread religious fanaticism. The government is not seen probing against those who support NathuramGodse openly so sabkavikas (everyone’s progress) is a deceit.

“If there is democracy and the Constitution then why don’t we have the same law for everyone in the country. Why is someone inside and someone outside. If we really want democracy to function as per the Constitution then all political prisoners should be released,” the activists have appealed.



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