Apex court orders house arrest in interim relief for five activists

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New Delhi | Updated: August 30, 2018 12:36:43 AM

Trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj, prominent Telugu poet and Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao, civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Farreira were arrested during multi-city raids on terror charges and alleged Maoist links.

Coming down heavily on the government’s crackdown on five left wing activists on Tuesday, the Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed their arrests, but allowed them to be kept under house arrest till September 6.

Coming down heavily on the government’s crackdown on five left wing activists on Tuesday, the Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed their arrests, but allowed them to be kept under house arrest till September 6.

Trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj, prominent Telugu poet and Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao, civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Farreira were arrested during multi-city raids on terror charges and alleged Maoist links.

A bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, while seeking the Maharashtra government’s response on the issue, said that it will hear in detail the pleas against the arrests on September 6. The bench, in the meantime, said that the five activists must be kept in “house arrest in their own homes.”

“Dissent is the safety wall of any democracy. If you don’t allow the safety valve pressure cooker will burst,” Justice DY Chandrachud told Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who appeared for the Maharashtra government.

The plea was moved by five eminent people, including historian Romila Thapar, on early Wednesday against the arrests in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence that took place in January.

Mehta told the apex court that “strangers can’t oppose arrest,” as only someone who is arrested himself or herself can oppose arrest or seek release.

The top court order supersedes the proceedings in two other courts — one in Pune and the other in Delhi High Court. In Pune, three arrested activists — Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira — were produced. The High Court, which was hearing the transit remand request for arrested Navlakha, said it would resume hearing on Thursday after it was informed about the order passed by the top court. Navalakha had moved the HC terming his detention as unlawful.

The High Court bench, while hearing the case, had observed that the transit remand issued by chief metropolitan magistrate allowing Pune Police to take Navlakha to Pune lacked merit as the magistrate could not have been expected to properly examine the documents which were in Marathi.

The activists have been charged under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which authorises raids and arrest without warrant if a person is suspected to support terrorist acts or unlawful activities. The accused cannot apply for bail and the police gets 180 days to file a chargesheet, instead of the usual 90 days.

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