‘Prima Facie No Case of Sedition’: K’taka HC on Kashmiri Students

It has been over 3 months since the engineering students, studying on scholarship in Hubli, were taken into custody.

3 min read
‘Prima Facie No Case of Sedition’: K’taka HC on Kashmiri Students

In an important observation, Karnataka High Court judge Justice G Narendar on 16 April, while hearing the case of sedition against three Kashmiri students, said that “prima facie, the complaint does not disclose any material which could be considered as an ingredient constituting the offence as against the petitioners”.

Just over 3 months ago, on 15 February, three undergraduate students of KLE Institute of Technology were arrested from their college campus on charges of sedition, for allegedly filming and circulating a video of themselves chanting ‘pro-Pakistan slogans’ in their hostel rooms on the anniversary of the Pulwama attack,

The students were booked under provisions for hate speech (Sections 153A, 153B and 505 of the IPC) as well as sedition (Section 124A) for the video.

Their application for bail was rejected most recently by a Hubballi court on 9 March, which has been challenged in the Karnataka High Court. Despite making these observations, Justice G Narendar has not yet accepted their bail plea, and has listed the case for hearing next on 24 April, giving the state one last chance to respond.

Justice Narendar also noted that “it would have been a more responsive effort if the complainant had made an effort to counsel the accused and made them realize the purpose for which they are there.”

The sedition case against the Kashmiri youth had been the subject of much controversy after the executive committee of the Hubli Bar Association – the local lawyer’s body – had then passed a resolution on 15 February, stating none of its members would file a vakalath for the three students. Further, the students were heckled and nearly attacked when they were produced in court on 17 February, allegedly by members of pro-Hindutva groups.

The high court had to intervene in the matter and requested the bar association to reconsider its resolution, which it duly did.

‘Students Vetted, Funded by Union Government’

In the interim order, Justice Narendar observed that it was ‘surprising’ that the trial courts in Hubbali-Dharwad had not appreciated the fact that all three students were holders of a scholarship provided by the Centre and that the prosecution would have to look at the larger picture and the central government’s attempts to integrate such class of people into the mainstream.

“That the very fact that the accused have been sponsored on a scholarship by the Central Government would demonstrate the fact that they are all people with roots, and their background is vetted by none other than the union government. Merely on account of a perception by a group constructing the alleged to be of an offensive nature, it ought not to have negated the efforts being made by the union government,” he said.

‘Duty of Court to Grant Bail’: Defence Lawyer

BT Venkatesh, their defence counsel who also represented the accused in the Bidar sedition case said that he was confident that the trio would be granted bail on 24 April.

“These 3 students who sung along a song in their room are not getting bail. A girl was reciting a poem, was stopped and sent to jail, her application is not being heard. This is a travesty of justice, and in these times, more so particularly, these are young children, barely out of their teens, 19-20 years old. No criminal record. They should be released on bail. I feel that it is the duty of the court,” he said.

He also added that overcrowded prisons added to the danger of the coronavirus.

“All our prisons in major cities are overcrowded. Convicts, undertrials share a common loo, common halls, any one could get it and you can imagine the scale of infection. The police should be screening people and quarantining everyone sentenced to jail, but this is not happening” he said.

Venkatesh added that the sedition case of Amulya, the 19-year-old activist who was jailed for saying ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ at a public event, had not been listed for months after the case was registered.

“The sessions court had ruled that there is no urgency for granting bail. With a lot of difficulty, we filed the case before the HC. It has been listed finally for 28 April,” he said.

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