Human Rights

Bhima Koregaon case: House arrest of HR activists’ extended to 4 weeks, top court refuses SIT probe

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The Supreme Court Friday refused to interfere in the arrest of the five human rights activists in the Bhima Koregaon case and rejected the demand for a court-monitored probe in the matter. The five activists — Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj, and Gautam Navlakha — will continue to remain under house arrest for four more weeks. The court, however, said they move the trial court for relief.

In a 2-1 verdict, the three-judge bench rejected the petition seeking the release of activists, saying the arrests were not due to “dissent and differences in ideology.”

Justice Chandrachud, dissented in his judgment and said the case warranted a need for “court-monitored probe.” Observing that Pune police’s press conference and conduct creates an impression that the probe is unfair, he said, “deprivation of liberty cannot be compensated later.”

“Police’s selective disclosure casts a cloud on the fair probe,” he said referring to the alleged letter of Sudha Bharadwaj that the police had produced.

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The bench had earlier said it would look at the Maharashtra Police’s “material” on the Bhima-Koregaon case with a “hawk’s eye” as liberty cannot be sacrificed at the altar of conjectures. It had also asked the Maharashtra police to hand over the case diaries.

Earlier, during the hearing on the house arrests of the activists, the apex court had observed that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy… if it is not allowed, the pressure cooker will burst.” It also said that the institutions of the country should be “e robust enough to accommodate opposition to the system or even this court” and that a “clear-cut distinction” should be made “between opposition and attempts to create disturbance and overthrow governments”.

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Earlier on August 28, Pune police teams raided the houses of activists in Mumbai, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Delhi and Faridabad and arrested five in alleged connection to a Maoist plot, PTI reported.

Activist Sudha Bhardwaj from Faridabad, Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Gautam Navlakha from Delhi, Arun Pereira and Venon Gonsalves from Mumbai have been detained by the police.

The Maharashtra Police defended the arrests of five human rights activists alleging ‘connection to Maoists’ before the Supreme Court of India by saying that the investigation was based on “cogent evidence”.

The defense was in response to a plea which had been filed by Romila Thapar and four others. The police accused the activists of planning to carry out violence, planned ambush against country and security forces.

“Activists were not arrested because of their dissenting opinion, there is sufficient material to dispel this impression,” the Maharashtra Police said.

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