In a relief for Lakshadweep filmmaker Aisha Sultana in a sedition case filed against her, the Kerala High Court today granted her anticipatory bail. The court had earlier given her a temporary relief for one week, in the form of an interim bail, reserving the final order.
The young filmmaker was, earlier this month, named in a case of sedition and hate speech for her comments criticising Lakshadweep Administrator Praful Khoda Patel's Covid handling. While she wasn't arrested, the Kerala court had given the temporary relief "if the police decided to arrest her".
The sedition case was filed after Ms Sultana, in a news debate on a regional channel, blamed Covid cases in the island on Praful Patel's decisions and remarked that the Centre had used "bio-weapon" against Lakshadweep.
"Lakshadweep had zero cases of COVID-19. Now it is reporting a daily spike of 100 cases. What the Centre has deployed is a bioweapon. I can say this clearly that the central government has deployed bioweapon," she had said on a Malayalam TV debate earlier this week.
Today, the court, in the bail order, said: "The applicant has no criminal antecedents. She is not likely to flee from justice. The learned Senior Counsel has stated that the applicant has expressed her regret about the use of the words 'bio weapon'. Custodial interrogation of the applicant and her incarceration in prison, particularly in these pandemic times may not be required."
"The prosecution has also not expressed any fear of her fleeing from justice or not co-operating with the investigation. Nor has the prosecution expressed its intention to subject the applicant to custodial interrogation. There is no evidence that can be tampered with or witnesses to be influenced or intimidated," the bail order added.
The BJP's Lakshadweep chief C Abdul Khader Haji filed the complaint and accused her of making "anti-national" comments, and "tarnishing the patriotic image of the central government".
Ms Sultana's remarks had also created a divide within the BJP in the union territory. Fifteen leaders and party workers of the BJP submitted their resignations to mark their protest against the sedition FIR.
In a letter signed by 12 leaders, they stressed "how the present Administrator Patel's actions are anti-people, anti-democracy and causing extreme suffering among people".
The letter also reminded Mr Haji of having met Union Home Minister Amit Shah over the issue and "submitting a complaint". "You also know that several BJP leaders of Lakshadweep have already spoken on the various wrongdoings of the administrator and the district collector," the letter read.
In the past, Mr Patel was accused by protesters, including Lakshadweep Parliamentarian Mohammed Faizal, of doing away with quarantine protocols that were a must for people to enter Lakshadweep.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and former Kerala Minister Thomas Isaac had also come forward to support Ms Sultana.
In its order, the Kerala court further said: "Consequent to the granting of interim anticipatory bail, the applicant was directed to appear before the investigating officer for interrogation, and there is no report that she has not complied with that direction of this court."
"Hence, the application is allowed and the interim anticipatory bail is made absolute. In the event of her arrest, the applicant shall be released on bail on execution of bond for 50,000/- (Rupees fifty thousand only) with two solvent sureties each for like amount to the satisfaction of the arresting officer and subject to the conditions under Section 438 (2) Cr.P.C," it added.