He may be a sympathiser. That does not make him guilty of sedition: Judge

The Supreme Court on Friday granted bail to Dr. Binayak Sen, observing that no case of sedition was made out against the rights activist, who was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court in Chhattisgarh.

A Bench of Justices H.S. Bedi and C.K. Prasad, after hearing senior counsel Ram Jethmalani for the petitioner and senior counsel U.U. Lalit for the State, granted bail to Dr. Sen.

The Bench said it was not giving reasons for granting bail to Dr. Sen, who would be released subject to the satisfaction of the trial court.

Mr. Justice Prasad told Mr. Lalit: “We are a democratic country. He may be a sympathiser. That does not make him guilty of sedition.” Drawing an analogy, he asked Mr. Lalit: “if Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography is found in somebody's place, is he a Gandhian? No case of sedition is made out on the basis of materials in possession unless you show that he was actively helping or harbouring them [Maoists].”

Dr. Sen sought bail and suspension of the life sentence awarded by the trial court on charges of conspiring to commit sedition and providing assistance to those said to be Naxalites. The High Court had rejected his bail petition during the pendency of the hearing of his appeal against the trial court verdict.

Mr. Lalit opposed the grant of bail, contending that Dr. Sen harboured hardcore Naxalites and arranged safe hideouts for them. He had deep links with co-accused Narayan Sanyal as well as other hardcore Naxalites.

Mr. Justice Bedi told Mr. Lalit: “Your main charge is that Dr. Sen met Sanyal 33 times in jail in 11 months and some materials on Maoist ideology were found in his possession. How can it be said that such possession would attract the charge of sedition?”

Mr. Jethmalani said: “I have never seen such oppression from the State government. This literature, what they call sedition is available in the market. ” Quoting various Supreme Court and other judgments, he argued that mere possession of some materials would not amount to the imperialistic concept of sedition, as the law relating to sedition had undergone a sea change. Not a single material was produced against Dr. Sen to show that he was involved in preaching or propagating Maoist ideology.

However, Mr. Lalit said Dr. Sen was directly involved in the distribution, circulation of seditious materials as well as substantial involvement in seditious activities to spread hatred/disaffection towards the government established by law.

When Justice Bedi wanted to know whether there was any material to show that Dr. Sen was involved in propagation, Mr. Lalit said Dr. Sen visited the jail and exchanged documents with prisoner Guha and others.

Mr. Justice Bedi observed: “Visitors are screened and searched by the jail staff when they go and meet the inmates and such meetings take place in the presence of jailors. The jailors are there to oversee all these things. So the question of passing letters or documents does not arise.”

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