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How Sedition Cases are Dividing Lawyers in Karnataka

In the first two months of 2020, Karnataka has already seen 4 cases of supposed sedition in different districts.

Published
India
4 min read
Lawyers hold placards and raise slogans during a protest against CAA, NRC and NPR in front of Karnataka High Court, in Bengaluru, Thursday, 9 January 2020.
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  • 8 January, Mysuru: Nalini Balakumar, a student is booked for holding a ‘’Free Kashmir’ poster
  • 27 January, Bidar: Shaheen Educational Institute management booked for staging a play critical of CAA, NRC
  • 15 February, Hubballi-Dharwad: 3 Kashmiri students jailed for raising ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogans
  • 20 February, Bengaluru: Amulya Leona, a student activist arrested for saying ‘Pakistan Zindabad’

In the first two months of 2020, Karnataka has already seen 4 cases of supposed sedition in different districts. Details of the offences aside, the one thing that has become apparent from the immediate aftermath of these cases being registered, is the chasm that it created within local Bar Associations.

From Mysuru to Hubballi to Bidar, there has been a pattern in the way local lawyers oriented themselves for and against the accused. While official resolutions were passed by the advocates associations in Mysuru and Hubballi ordering advocates not to appear for the accused; threats, heckling and hostility were meted out to those who chose to take up the cases.

BT Venkatesh, former state public prosecutor and Bidar defence lawyer said that such resolutions were illegal and orders by the Supreme Court and HC reflected that.

“Every accused is entitled to an advocate of his choice. If he can’t afford, Article 21 makes it very clear that he must be provided by a lawyer from the state. Article 39A talks about providing free legal aid. As advocates, we don’t judge, we represent. Maybe the anger of people is reflected in the bar but we should always look into the constitutional mandate that no person can be convicted without being tried,” he said.

Cleaved Down the Centre

Most recently, the Hubli Bar Association was on 27 February, forced to withdraw its resolution ordering lawyers not to appear for 3 Kashmiri students charged with sedition, after Karnataka HC Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka called the denial of legal aid to the accused ‘sheer militancy’.

Following the passage of the resolution by the Hubli bar association, some 24 lawyers had offered to represent the accused if a local lawyer was unwilling to do so. The accused’s lawyers were heckled and roughed up by protesting advocates when they attempted to file the bail application forcing the HC to order police protection for them.

Similarly, when the Mysuru Advocates’ Association passed a resolution ordering its members not to appear on behalf of Nalini Balakumar, approximately 170 advocates from Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mandya, Dharwad, and Davangere signed the vakalatnama in solidarity with the accused.

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‘Nation First, Ethics Second’: Bangalore Advocates Association Treasurer

In the state capital, a curious situation has emerged. While no official resolution has been passed by the Advocates Association, Bengaluru ordering that no advocate file vakalatnama for Amulya Leona, her lawyers told The Quint that they were heckled, threatened and called anti-national, for taking up the case.

An unsigned letter on the Association’s letterhead dated 25 February ‘requests’ lawyers to not represent the 19-year-old student activist.

“It started with calls demanding that I withdraw vakalath. They told me that they will be waiting outside court when we come with the accused and threatening me. My colleagues were also heckled outside court by lawyers, called anti-national and threatened with consequences,” said Amulya’s lawyer. They also claimed that they had received calls from members of the advocates association requesting them not to take up the case.

Association treasurer Shivamurthy told The Quint that they had decided to circulate the letter, so that advocates could take note, ‘before things go out of control’.

“There is no resolution, because of SC orders and HC orders we can’t do it. We are under pressure from public. Personally, I think it’s a crime. The biggest crime is being anti-national. Nation first, ethics comes later. If anything happens, it’s not in our control,” he said.

Adding that ‘99%’ of the advocates were against representing her, Shivamurthy claimed that lawyers who are taking up the case were doing it for fame.

“There is sickness in the lawyers, for fame. When representing them they think they will get fame. It’s not like they won’t get a lawyer if we don’t file vakalath. She might as well defend herself.”
Association treasurer Shivamurthy
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‘Misguided Nationalism, Shaming the Rest of Us’: Senior Advocates

Claiming that the letter circulated on the Bengaluru Advocates Association letterhead was ‘bogus’, association president AP Ranganatha said that ‘1-2 members’ were responsible for the letter and it was not the official stance.

“We believe everyone should get representation. It is the law,” he said.

Senior advocate AS Ponnanna said that apart from such resolutions being illegal, they were not the business of bar associations.

“The association is meant to espouse the general issues faced by lawyers. No business to decide what an individual lawyer does. Nobody can force their opinion on us,” he said.

From a socio-political perspective, Ponnanna argued that the approach taken by bar associations recently appeared to be that of a ‘nationalistic fervour with no backing.’

“It is senseless. People are not applying their minds. They are claiming to represent us but actually bringing shame. Has Pakistan been declared as an enemy nation? Are we at war? Grateful for a wonderful CJ who has nipped this trend in the bud,” he said.

Before the Hubli Bar Association withdrew its resolution, the high court directed that copies of the apex court’s judgment in the Mohammed Rafi case in 2011 be sent to its members. In the said case, the Supreme Court had held that resolutions barring members from representing an accused “is against all norms of the Constitution, the Statute and professional ethics” and a “disgrace to the legal community”.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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