The Bombay High Court on Tuesday granted interim protection from arrest to a 22-year-old student-activist in a sedition case lodged for allegedly shouting slogan in support of jailed JNU student Sharjeel Imam at an LGBTQ event in Mumbai.
Justice S K Shinde, who was hearing the anticipatory bail plea of the student, Urvashi Chudawala, said in the event of arrest, the petitioner shall be released on a personal bond of Rs 20,000.
The court directed Ms Chudawala to appear before the Azad Maidan police station in south Mumbai, where the sedition case is lodged, on February 12 and 13 for three hours in the morning and thereafter as and when required by the police for questioning.
Justice Shinde posted Ms Chudawala's anticipatory bail plea for further hearing on February 24.
Ms Chudawala is a student of Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and also an activist.
According to the police, during a rally organised by the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) community at Azad Maidan last week, Ms Chudawala allegedly shouted the slogan "Sharjeel Tere Sapno Ko Hum Manzil Tak Pahuchaenge" (Sharjeel, we will realise your dreams).
Mr Imam, a PhD student at the Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University's Centre for Historical Studies, was arrested on January 28 after he was booked in sedition cases lodged across several states for alleged "inflammatory" speeches made during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. He was arrested from Bihar.
The court, while granting relief to Ms Chudawala on Tuesday, noted that the sloganeering may not reflect the applicant's ideology.
The judge also asked the police if they had followed guidelines laid down by the High Court in the past before registration of cases under the Indian Penal Code section related to sedition.
As per the guidelines, before lodging a case against any person under sedition charge (IPC section 124A), the police have to take the opinion of the district law officer/prosecutor concerned.
Public prosecutor Deepak Thakare told the court in this case no legal opinion was taken before registration of the FIR against Ms Chudawala.
He, however, told the court the police had apprehension of anti-CAA and NPR protests along with the LGBTQ event and hence denied permission for the programme.
The LGBTQ community had gathered at Azad Maidan on February 1 to protest against the denial of permission for the event and as apprehended by the police, slogans were raised that were unrelated to the programme in question, Mr Thakare said.
Ms Chudawala's counsel Mihir Desai argued his client was only reading out slogans from mobile phone sent by someone else and that they had no relation with Mr Imam. According to Ms Chudawala's plea, the slogan in question was taken out of context to allege the petitioner wanted to create hatred against a community.
The plea further added that a particular section of the society may not agree with the slogan, but that does not amount to sedition.
The Indian Penal Code defines sedition as an offence committed when "any person by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India".