New Delhi: A Delhi court on Monday granted relief from arrest to Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement leader Shehla Rashid, who has been booked for sedition for tweeting that the armed forces allegedly tortured civilians and ransacked houses in the Valley after Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was revoked.
In his order, additional sessions judge Pawan Kumar Jain at Patiala House court granted interim protection from arrest to Rashid. He wrote: “I am of the view that the matter requires investigation in detail” and posted it next for November 5. Till then, he ordered that the “accused shall not be arrested”.
However, he directed that she would “join the investigation” as and when called by the investigation officer.
Case pertains to tweets on J&K situation
Earlier, Rashid’s counsel, senior advocate Satish Tamta, urged the court for interim protection on the ground that she had shared some information on her Twitter (account) on August 17 this year pertaining to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
He submitted before the court that “on the basis of her comments, one advocate made a complaint to the Special Cell (of Delhi Police) and on the basis of said complaint, police has registered an FIR”. The counsel also stated the sections under which the case has been registered.
Army has not filed a complaint, no notice issued to Rashid
Thereafter the additional public prosecutor submitted that till date, the police has not even issued any notice to the accused. Tamta thereafter stated that Rashid was ready to join the investigation and cooperate with the police.
ASJ Jain also recorded that the prosecutor had stated that the police has thus far not received any complaint from the Indian Army. After he said that the police would need at least six weeks to investigate the complaint, the judge posted the matter to November 5.
Case filed on complaint of SC lawyer
This case has once again highlighted how the serious provision of sedition is used arbitrarily to silence complaints and voices of dissent.
In this case, while Rashid has been accused of making false accusations against the army, the fact of the matter, as submitted by a counsel before the court, is that the army has not made a complaint till date.
SC judge spoke against using sedition at ‘drop of a hat’
Just two days back, speaking on the law of sedition in India at an event, Justice Deepak Gupta of the Supreme Court spoke of how even the preamble of India’s constitution provides that “there cannot be any democratic polity where citizens do not have the right to think as they like, express their thoughts, have their own beliefs and faith, and worship in a manner which they feel like.”
On the necessity for freedom of opinion, he said, “If a person does not ask questions and does not raise issues questioning age old systems, no new systems would develop and the horizons of the mind will not expand.”
‘Sedition introduced by British to deprive people of rights, curb independence demand’
As for law of sedition, he said, it must be kept in mind that it was “introduced at a time when we were ruled by a foreign imperialist colonising power” and that “their sole aim was to deprive the people of this country of their rights including the right to express their views.”
Stating that “the British used the law of sedition to curb any demand for independence”, Justice Gupta added that, “the offence as defined by the first clause is exciting or attempting to excite feelings of disaffection to the government.”
‘Law of sedition needs to be toned down’
In the present day, he said, the law of sedition needs to be toned down – if not abolished altogether – and that the least which the government can do is to make it a non-cognizable offence so that the persons are not arrested at the drop of a hat.”
And he added that “criticism of the government by itself cannot amount to sedition. In a country which is governed by the rule of law and which guarantees freedom of speech, expression and belief to its citizens, the misuse of the law of sedition and other similar laws is against the very spirit of freedom for which the freedom fighters fought and gave up their lives.”
Rashid too had called charges ‘frivolous’, an ‘attempt to silence’ her
It may be noted that Rashid had described the charge levelled against her as “frivolous, politically motivated and a pathetic attempt to silence” her. Apart from sedition, she was also charged with spreading “fake news” with the intention to “malign the image of the Indian Army”.
The case was filed in connection with a series of tweets made by her on August 17. In these, Rashid had alleged that the armed forces entered houses in Kashmir at night and “ransacked” them. She had also alleged that four men were called to an Army camp in Shopian and “interrogated (tortured)”.
Rashid even offered proof of allegations
Following her tweets, a Supreme Court lawyer, Alakh Alok Srivastava, filed a complaint with Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik accusing the former JNU student leader of making “absolutely false and concocted” allegations.
The complaint was forwarded to Special Cell and Rashid was booked, apart from other sections, for under section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code as well.
Standing by her comments, Rashid had stated that she could even furnish proof if the Indian army was to initiate an inquiry into her claims. It is “important to put out narratives of the people, so that people in the rest of India know what is happening there,” she added.