NEW DELHI -- More than three weeks after they were arrested, Jawaharlal Nehru University students Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, accused of sedition, were granted six-month interim bail by a Delhi court on Friday.
Additional Sessions Judge Reetesh Singh at Patiala House Court directed each student to furnish Rs 25,000 as surety amount, and told them not to leave the city.
The Modi government has accused Khalid and Bhattacharya of organising an event to mark the third anniversary of Afzal Guru’s execution.
Afzal Guru was sentenced to death for plotting the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, which claimed the lives of 14 people. The 43-year old Kashmiri was pulled out of the death row cue and executed by the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance government on Feb 9, 2013, in the run up to the national election. His sentence and execution have always been a subject of controversy.
The JNU row sparked a nationwide debate on free speech, the space for dissent especially in academic institutions, and nationalism.
While they are mixed feelings on whether students should organise events, which are deeply hurtful to the sentiments of many people, and regarded by them as "anti national," the Modi government has faced a great deal of criticism at home and abroad for slapping sedition charges on the JNU students.
JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar was also arrested for allegedly making an “anti national" speech after the Afzal Guru event.
Kumar, who is not accused of organising the event, was granted six months bail, earlier this month.
Khalid, Kumar and Bhattacharya have been charged under Indian Penal Code sections 124 A (sedition) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
Citing Kumar’s example today, Khalid and Bhattacharya argued that they should also get bail on the grounds of parity.
The Delhi Police argued that Kumar’s circumstances were different because he had not organised the event.
While the two students argued that the video footage of them raising “anti national” slogans was “false and doctored,” the Delhi Police said that they were also relying on statements of ten witnesses.
Meanwhile, a JNU internal inquiry has accused 21 students of organizing the Afzal Guru event, and asked them to explain why they should not face disciplinary action.
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