'Scanty, sketchy evidence': Disha Ravi gets bail
New Delhi: Observing that "citizens are conscience keepers of the government in any democratic nation" who cannot be put behind bars "simply because they choose to disagree with the state policies," a Delhi court on Tuesday granted bail to 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi, arrested in connection with making edits on a Toolkit, created to bring global attention to the farmers' agitation and organise a social media campaign in their support.
Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana, in his order, noted that "the offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the government". He added: "Difference of opinion, disagreement, divergence, dissent, or for that matter, even disapprobation, are recognised legitimate tools to infuse objectivity in state policies... an aware and assertive citizenry, in contradistinction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indubitably a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy."
While granting bail to the 22-year-old subject to filing a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh, the court said "considering the scanty and sketchy evidence available on record, I do not find any palpable reason to breach the general rule of law of bail against a 22-year-old young lady, with absolutely blemish-free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society, and send her to jail".
Noting that the right to dissent is firmly enshrined under Article 19 of The Constitution of India, the court said: "...The Freedom of Speech and Expression includes the right to seek a global audience. There are no geographical barriers on communication". It added: "A citizen has the fundamental rights to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the four corners of law and as such have access to audiences abroad."
With regards to the allegations of the toolkit having links with the "secessionist" organisation called "Poetic Justice Foundation" (PJF), the court noted that there is nothing on record to suggest that there was any call, incitement, instigation or exhortation on the part of Ravi and PJF and its associates to foment violence on January 26.
"...It is not mere engagement with persons of dubious credentials which is indictable rather it is the purpose of engagement which is relevant for the purpose of deciding the culpability," ASJ Rana ruled.
The court further stated that any person with dubious credentials may interact with a number of persons during the course of his social interaction and as long as the engagement remains within the four corners of law, people interacting with such persons, ignorantly, innocently or for that matter even fully conscious of their dubious credentials, "cannot be painted with the same hue".
Dismissing the prosecution's contention regarding creation of a WhatsApp group, "International Farmers Strike", and that she edited a Google document, called a Toolkit, the court said the creation of a WhatsApp group or being an editor of an "innocuous" Toolkit is not an offence. It also observed that "there is nothing on record to suggest that the accused subscribed to any secessionist idea. "...The
prosecution has, except for pointing out that accused forwarded the toolkit to Ms. Greta Thunberg, failed to point out as to how the accused gave a global audience to 'secessionist elements'."
ASJ Rana also ruled that in the absence of any evidence that the accused agreed or shared a common purpose to cause violence on January 26 with the founders of PJF, "it cannot be presumed by resorting to surmises or conjectures that she also supported the secessionist tendencies or the violence caused on January 26, simply because she shared a platform with people who have gathered to oppose the legislation". The court also stated that despite more than hundreds of persons involved
in the Republic Day violence having been arrested and interrogated by the Delhi Police, "no evidence connecting the accused with the actual perpetrators of the violence has been brought forth on record by the prosecution till date".
ASJ Rana further said there is "absolutely no link established on record between the accused and 'Sikhs for Justice'" and that the organisation called "KisaanEkta.co.", referred to by police as part of the conspiracy, has not been proven to be "an organisation with a seditious
Observing that the investigation is at a nascent stage and police is in the process of collecting more evidence, the court noted that "the investigating agency made a conscious choice to arrest the accused upon the strength of material so far collected
and now they cannot be permitted to further restrict the liberty of a citizen on the basis of propitious
Regarding the police's argument that Ravi is required to be confronted with other co-accused persons, the court said that since co-accused Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk are already on anticipatory bail, "there is no rule of law that a person is mandatorily required to be detained in custody to be confronted with other co-accused persons". It noted that
Ravi has already been interrogated in police custody for almost five days and "placing any further restraint upon her liberty on the basis of general and omnibus accusation would be neither logical not legal."
"The resistance of the bail plea seems to be more ornamental in nature", the court added.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police questioned advocate Nikita Jacob, engineer Shantanu Muluk and Ravi in front of each other in connection with the case.