NEW DELHI--On Friday, the Supreme Court extended the house arrest of the five activists arrested by the Pune police in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence. It also refused to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to conduct a court-monitored inquiry.
Four of the five eminent academicians who had petitioned the Supreme Court seeking that the activists be released, held a press conference in Delhi on Friday in response to the judgement. In a written statement, they said that "arbitrary arrests on implausible charges... are a source of anxiety to us all".
The press conference was addressed by historian Romila Thapar, economist Prabhat Patnaik, sociologist Satish Deshpande, former director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Maja Daruwala and Advocate Vrinda Grover (who was not one of the petitioners). The fifth petitioner in the case was economist Devaki Jain.
On 28 August, the Pune police arrested five prominent activists—Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira and Varavara Rao. While the majority judgement, authored by Justice AM Khanwilkar for himself and Chief Justice Dipak Misra, held that it was not a case of arrest for dissent, Justice DY Chandrachud dissented from the majority to say that the arrests were without any basis.
The academicians' statement appreciated Justice Chandrachud's view, saying, "Our stand in this case finds vindication in the dissenting opinion of J. Dr. DY Chandrachud who has categorically held that liberty cannot be sacrificed at the altar of conjecture, and that the police had been taking liberties with the truth and besmirching the reputation of the activists by doing a media trial. Under such circumstances, the police's ability to conduct a free, fair and impartial investigation is in serious doubt, as has been held by J. Dr. DY Chandrachud."
Many reports have pointed out discrepancies in the allegations that have been levelled against the activists by the police.
The petitioners said they filed the plea to alert the judiciary about the "gross misuse of the state's powers under draconian laws like the UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act)". They added that the state, by deploying anti-terror laws without enough proof against activists, was "also spreading a kind of terror".
The court has said that the activists have the liberty to pursue other legal remedies.
The academicians added that they were "pleased to note that at least the liberty and dignity of the human rights activists has for the time being not been jeopardized and the Supreme Court has protected the same".