The judgment questioned Delhi police’s attempt to link Disha Ravi to the violence in Delhi on January 26, and said that disagreeing with state policies does not mean citizens should be put behind bars.

Disha Ravi smiling on Brigade Road, Bengaluru
news Disha Ravi arrest Tuesday, February 23, 2021 - 19:38

Delhi's Patiala House Court on Tuesday granted bail to 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi, noting that the Delhi police had not produced any evidence to suggest that she subscribed to any ‘secessionist’ idea. Pronouncing the order, Judge Dharmender Rana observed that the crime of sedition is not made out by sharing a toolkit and that just being an editor of an 'innocuous' toolkit is not an offence.

The judgment rubbished the Delhi police’s attempt to link Disha Ravi to the violence in Delhi on January 26, and said that disagreeing with state policies does not mean citizens should be put behind bars. The judge also said that the police had failed to point out how Disha had provided a global audience to ‘secessionist elements’ — adding also that freedom of speech included the right to seek a global audience for an issue. 

‘Secession’ theory bunked

“It would be worthwhile to observe that there is nothing on record to suggest that the applicant accused subscribed to any secessionist idea. Further, the prosecution has, except for pointing out that applicant/accused forwarded the toolkit to Ms Greta Thunberg, failed to point out as to how the applicant/accused gave a global audience to the ‘secessionist elements',” observed the Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana in the bail order.

“Citizens are conscience keepers of the government in any democratic nation. They cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with State policies. The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments,” said Judge Dharmender Rana. "In my considered opinion, the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience. There are no geographical barriers on communication," the judge added.

No call for violence

The judge pointed out that the prosecution had not placed any evidence linking the toolkit to the violence in Delhi. The judge has included the part of the toolkit that called for action including protesting outside Indian embassies and tweet storm in the judgment copy and found that “any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent”.

“The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments,” the judge said adding, “Except for a bare assertion, no evidence has been brought to my notice to support the contention that any violence took place at any of the Indian Embassies pursuant to the sinister designs of the applicant/accused and her co conspirators.” 

The judge stated that the ‘toolkit’ did not reveal any call for violence. “The perusal of the said 'Toolkit' reveals that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent,” the order stated.

On Disha deleting a WhatApp group on farmer protest

The judge also rejected the prosecution's charge about Disha's role in the case, and the violence in Delhi on January 26, observing that merely editing or deleting a WhatsApp group does not implicate her.

“In my considered opinion, creation of a WhatsApp group or being editor of an innocuous Toolkit is not an offence. Further, since the link with the said toolkit or PJF has not been found to be objectionable, mere deletion of the WhatsApp chat to destroy the evidence linking her with the toolkit and PJF also becomes meaningless. Further, it is rightly pointed out by Ld Defence Counsel that the protest march was duly permitted by the Delhi police therefore there is nothing wrong in co accused Shantanu reaching Delhi to attend the protest march. Still further, the attempt to conceal her identity seems to be nothing more than an anxious effort to stay away from unnecessary controversies,” he said. 

Not a crime to ask for international support

The right to dissent is firmly enshrined under Article 19 of The Constitution of India. In my considered opinion the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience. There are no geographical barriers on communication. A Citizen has the fundamental rights to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the four corners of law and as such have access to audiences abroad.

One hyperlink objectionable, but not seditious

The government had said that the toolkit had two hyperlinks. The judge found that one link has nothing objectionable. However, on the second link which lead to a website called Genocide.org, the judge noted that “the imputations are really objectionable in the said website. However, even if the said imputations are found to be objectionable in nature, I cannot but disagree with Ld. ASG that the said material is seditious in nature.”

‘PJF not linked to Khalistan’

The Delhi police in its first information report (FIR) in the case had said that the ‘toolkit’ led to the violence that took place in Delhi on January 26 and that it was linked to the Khalistani movement through the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), a Canada based organisation. Another organisation — the banned Sikh Justice Foundation (SJF) — is mentioned in the FIR, however, the Delhi police is yet to provide any link between SJF and Disha Ravi.

The judgment also pointed out that Poetic Justice Foundation, which created the toolkit, is not linked to Khalistan movement, nor is it banned. “Ld. Addl. Solicitor General fairly admitted that PJF is not a banned organisation and even no criminal action is pending against the above said Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal,” the judgment said. 

“Furthermore, there is nothing on record to establish any direct link between the applicant/accused and Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal. Still further, there is nothing on record to suggest that there was any call, incitement, instigation or exhortation on the part of the applicant/accused and the above said organisations and its associates to foment violence on 26.01.2021,” the judge said. 

The judge further questioned the police’s argument that Disha was secessionist for engaging with PJF. “In my considered opinion, it is not mere engagement with persons of dubious credentials which is indictable rather it is the purpose of engagement which is relevant for the purpose of deciding culpability. Any person with dubious credentials may interact with a number of persons during the course of his social intercourse,” he said. 

“As long as the engagement/interaction remains within the four corners of law, people interacting with such persons, ignorantly, innocently or for that matter even fully conscious of their dubious credentials, cannot be painted with the same hue,” the judgment said. 

‘No link to Sikhs for Justice’

“It is further submitted by Ld. ASG that during further investigation, it was revealed that on 11.01.2021, a banned terrorist organization 'Sikhs for Justice' issued an open communication declaring a reward of $250,000 for anyone who will hoist the flag of Khalistan at India Gate on Republic Day. There is absolutely no link established on record between the applicant/accused and the said banned organisation,” the judgment said. 

‘Why should Disha be in custody?’

The court also agreed with Disha's counsel that there was no need to keep Disha in custody when the other two co-accused in the case, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk, have been granted interim protection from bail and have joined police probe.

The judge said that it would be neither legal nor logical to keep Disha in jail any further based on “general and omnibus accusations”. “No specific article sought to be recovered from the possession of the accused has been brought to my notice. The resistance to the bail plea seems to be more of ornamental in nature,” the order said.

“Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence available on record, I do not find any palpable reasons to breach the general rule of ‘Bail’ against a 22 years old young lady, with absolutely blemish free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society, and send her to jail,” he said.

Read: Fridays for Future was on govt radar long before Disha Ravi's arrest: An inside view

The judge said that the strength of the material collected so far is not enough to keep her in custody. “The investigating agency made a conscious choice to arrest the applicant/accused upon the strength of material so far collected and now they cannot be permitted to further restrict the liberty of a citizen on the basis of propitious anticipations,” it added.

Disha was arrested from her home in Bengaluru on February 13 and has spent nine days in police custody — a total of six days in police custody and three days in judicial custody. She was arrested in connection with the Delhi police's probe into the 'toolkit' on farmers' protests. A ‘toolkit’ is a Google document or Word document often used to organise a social media campaign or to plan protests. A toolkit contains basic information on any issue, tweet suggestions and information on what hashtags to use, whom to tag on social media, etc. These documents are regularly used by various individuals and groups, including political parties, to organise social media campaigns and mobilise crowds.

Disha was released on bail on the conditions that she should cooperate with the ongoing investigations and shall join the investigation as and when summoned and that she shall not leave the country without the permission of the court.

Read: Disha Ravi gets bail nine days after her arrest in ‘toolkit’ case

 
Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.