Nothing Against 'National Interest', Says Kerala HC in Sedition Case Against Filmmaker Aisha Sultana

Sultana has been a vocal critic of the Central government's administrator in the union territory, Praful Khoda Patel, and his policies.

New Delhi: The Kerala high court on Friday granted anticipatory bail to Lakshadweep filmmaker and activist Aisha Sultana in a sedition case filed against her. “There is no apparent indication in her statement, which amounts to imputations or assertions prejudicial to the national interest, nor does it propagate any class of persons against another group of persons,” the order said, according to Bar and Bench.

“In the event of her arrest, the applicant shall be released on bail on execution of bond for 50,000 with two solvent ₹ sureties each for like amount to the satisfaction of the arresting officer and subject to the conditions under Section 438 (2) Cr.PC,” the bench said.

Last week, the high court had granted interim anticipatory bail to Sultana. A sedition case had been filed against Sultana after she criticised the island’s administrator and new government policies. However, the administration on Thursday filed an application saying that Sultana had “abused” the court’s earlier protection order and broken COVID-19 norms.

Kavaratti Police had registered an FIR against Sultana under sections 124A (sedition) and 153B (acts against national integration) of the Indian Penal Code following a complaint by C. Abdul Khader Haji, the BJP’s Lakshadweep chief.

As The Wire has reported, the BJP member had taken exception to the filmmaker equating the union territory’s administrator Praful Khoda Patel with a ‘bioweapon’ on a television channel debate, criticising his decision to do away with mandatory quarantine in the island. This decision, she said, is responsible for the surge of COVID-19 cases in Lakshadweep.

Also read: Modi’s Man in Lakshadweep: A Field Guide to Praful Patel’s Tumultuous Record as UT Administrator

Sultana’s bail plea had been opposed by the Lakshadweep administration’s standing counsel S. Manu who said that the remark was “powerful, noxious” and could “create disaffection amongst the island inhabitants against the Government of India,” according to LiveLaw.

Sultana had argued in her bail plea that criticism of the government or its policies cannot amount to sedition. “Lakshadweep is seeing an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases due to the relaxations in the quarantine protocol, and it is in this context that the alleged remarks were made,” the plea said. “…It is submitted that the applicant had only intended to say that it was due to the apathetic approach and reforms of the new administrator that serious threat is being caused to the lives of the people of the Island and had absolutely no intention of exciting disaffection towards the government.”

The case against Sultana and Patel’s controversial land reforms in the union territory have been criticised by different quarters, including by BJP workers. Earlier this month, 15 Lakshadweep BJP leaders and party workers submitted their resignations to protest the sedition case against Sultana.

In a letter, they said that the BJP is “fully aware of how the present administrator [Praful Khoda] Patel’s actions are anti-people, anti-democracy and causing extreme suffering among people.”

People and political leaders in Lakshadweep also organised a ‘Black Day’ of protests when Patel visited the island on June 14.

The Kerala high court is currently hearing several petitions regarding the administrator’s controversial new policies, and has made some decisions that go against the government. Given this, the Lakshadweep administration has mooted a proposal to shift its legal jurisdiction from the Kerala high court to the Karnataka high court.