'Misuse of Law': Gujarat Court Acquits Mevani, Others in 2017 Mehsana Rally Case

The Gujarat legislator and nine others were charged for 'unlawful assembly' for taking out a rally to protest against the 2016 Una public flogging incident.

New Delhi: Gujarat Congress legislator Jignesh Mevani and nine others have been acquitted by the Mehsana sessions court in connection with a case filed against them in July 2017 on the charges that they had taken out a public rally despite police denying them permission. Last year, Mevani had been sentenced to three months in jail.

Overturning the earlier verdict by the magisterial court, additional sessions judge C.M. Pawar called the case “baseless”, by saying that the right to peaceful protest is a right guaranteed under Article 19 of the constitution, Times of India reported.

If in a democratic setup, judge Pawar said, every dissent and peaceful protest is branded as an offence, then the right of freedom has no place there. He said deliberations, discussions, debates, and bona fide dissent against the government’s policies and criticism of its inaction are essential for democracy, according to Hindustan Times.

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God, cannot long retain it,” he said in his judgment on Wednesday, March 29, quoting 16th American President Abraham Lincoln.

The court also said misuse of power and process of law for suppressing people’s voice is not unknown even in democratic setups and it is the duty of rulers of every democratic nation to protect freedoms without any fear of criticism.

Taking to Twitter, Mevani after the verdict wrote, “Upholding our rights to deliberate, discuss & debate in a democracy  & quoting the prosecutors case to be ‘baseless,’ a session court in Mehsana has acquitted us today in a frivolous case registered by Mehsana police in 2017 for carrying out protest.”

Besides Mevani, former Nationalist Congress Party leader Reshma Patel (now with the Aam Aadmi Party), former student union leader of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Kanhaiya Kumar, who is now with the Congress, were among the accused. Kumar was not convicted as his trial is pending.

According to the police, Mevani took out a rally ‘Azadi Kooch’ under the banner of Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch from Mehsana to Dhanera in North Gujarat on July 12, 2017, to mark the first anniversary of the flogging of Dalit youths in Una by a group of cow vigilantes. Seven members of a Dalit family were flogged publicly on the allegations that they harmed cows.

The permission for the rally was denied by the police. The police lodged a case against Mevani and others under Section 143 (punishment for unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code and imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on each for going ahead with the rally.