Octogenarian poet-activist Varavara Rao, who was slapped with charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case, was released from Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital late on Saturday, 6 March. On 22 February, Rao was granted bail for six months on medical grounds by the Bombay High Court “in view of advanced age and inadequate facilities at Taloja Jail”.
Rao had been incarcerated for over two years since his arrest, apart from stints at the JJ Hospital and Nanavati Hospital because of various health problems, including dementia and COVID-19.
His advocate Indira Jaising shared a photograph of Rao being released on Twitter, captioning it ‘Free at last.’
The court on 1 March also relaxed Rao’s bail conditions, giving him time till 5 April in view of the COVID-19 pandemic to submit the two solvent sureties of Rs 50,000, and to furnish a personal bond for the same amount.
The 22 February HC order stipulates several conditions for Rao’s bail, including:
- He has to remain in Mumbai and not leave the jurisdiction of the special NIA court;
- He will make himself available to the NIA court whenever summoned;
- He will not tamper with any evidence or attempt to influence any witnesses.
- He will deposit his passport with the court;
- He will not speak to the media about his case.
At the end of the six-month period, Rao can either surrender or request an extension of the medical bail. The court declined his request to be allowed to travel to his home in Hyderabad, calling it a risk.
Rao was first arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case on 28 August 2018. The Pune Police, which was investigating the case before its abrupt transfer to the NIA over a year ago, had filed a supplementary charge sheet against Rao and some of the other accused on 21 February 2019.
One of the other accused in the case, Rona Wilson, has filed a petition in the Bombay High Court asking for an independent investigation into whether key ‘evidence’ in the case was planted on his computer, following a report by US-based digital forensic firm Arsenal Consulting.
The malware used to do this had reportedly been sent to Wilson from what appeared to be Varavara Rao’s email ID, asking him to support a solidarity statement, in June 2016.
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