The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Chhattisgarh government on a petition rights activist Binayak Sen filed for bail and the suspension of the life sentence a trial court awarded to him on the charges of conspiracy to commit sedition and providing assistance to those said to be Naxalites.
A Bench of Justices H.S. Bedi and C.K. Prasad issued notice on the special leave petition filed by Dr. Sen against an order of the Chhattisgarh High Court refusing to grant him bail during the pendency of the hearing of his appeal against the trial court's verdict. On December 24, 2010, the Raipur Additional Sessions Court convicted Dr. Sen, Kolkata businessman Piyush Guha and Narayan Sanyal, an alleged Maoist ideologue, of conspiring to commit sedition and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
Dr. Sen was arrested in May 2007 on the suspicion that he had served as a courier for Sanyal. During the trial, he was released on bail by the Supreme Court in May 2009.
In his petition, Dr. Sen said he was granted bail by the Supreme Court even when he faced the charges of waging war against the government of India and being a member of a terrorist organisation. He was acquitted of both charges.
The special leave petition raised some important questions of law:
“Can the petitioner to whom not even one specific act of violence had been attributed and whose purely legitimate associations with other persons whose criminal antecedents were essentially hypothetical be held accountable for escalating violence in Chhattisgarh, merely on unsubstantiated prosecution claim? “What activities would constitute sedition in the light of a judgment of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court…that an action would constitute sedition only when it causes violence?
“Does the presumption of innocence in favour of the accused cease to operate once an order of conviction is passed by the court of first instance or does it continue till the final court of appeal passes a verdict?
“What is the nature of association required to sustain a charge of aiding an unlawful organisation or its members? Can purely legitimate activities such as assistance in obtaining employment, job or suitable accommodation be enough to make the petitioner guilty of aiding the unlawful activities of such groups?”
Dr. Sen said the High Court had erred in seeking to make him culpable for his visits to Narayan Sanyal in jail, where all the meetings were open and transparent, and were in pursuance of his legitimate activities as a member of the People's Union for Civil Liberties.
He maintained that to speak up for the legitimate rights of prisoners was not to be complicit in their crimes. He sought that the High Court's February 10 order be quashed, he be granted bail and the sentence awarded to him be suspended.