The Court evaluated the arrests of five human rights activists under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by the Maharashtra Police. The Police accused the activists of involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence and sedition.
On 28th September, the Court delivered its judgment. A 2:1 majority allowed the Maharashtra Police's investigation to continue:
On 28th August, the Maharashtra Police had carried out simultaneous raids across different parts of India, resulting in the arrest of five activists: Vara Vara Rao, Sudha Bhardwaj, Gautam Navalakha, Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Farreira. The Maharashtra Police alleged that the activists were responsible for the Elgaar Parishad in January 2018, which allegedly had triggered the Bhima Koregaon violence. The Police claimed that the activists are members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a banned organization.
On 30th August, five eminent citizens Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande and Maja Dharuwala submitted a joint petition to the Supreme Court challenging the arbitrary arrests of the August arresttees.
The petitioners contended that the Police had violated the activists' rights to equality before the law (Article 14), free expression (Article 19) and personal liberty (Article 21). They argued that the arrests were arbitrarely made to curb dissent. They emphasised that the activists had been booked under the draconian UAPA. Further, they claimed that the Maharashtra Police had made serious procedural lapses during the raids.
Notably, the Court decided to hear the matter on the same day that it was filed. Mr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, one of the lawyers representing the petitioners, urgently raised the matter on the morning of 30th August. The first hearing happened at 3.45 P.M.
A second petition relating to similar June arrests was tagged to this case. On 7th June, the Maharasthra Police arrested Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson and Sudhir Dhawale. An intervention application was filed on behalf of these five activists.
The petitioners requested the Court to form a Special Investigation Team to:
(a) monitor the Maharashtra Police's investigation, and/or
(b) conduct an independent investigation
1) Whether the arrests are malafide and arbitrary as none of the individuals were named in the First Information Report nor is there any evidence they were present at Bhima Koregaon site?
2) Whether the Police, in making the arrests via the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, violated the fundamental rights of the activists under Articles 14 and 21?
3) Whether the use of the UAPA, an anti-terror law against citizens who have no history of violence, is malafide and goes against the core tenet of ‘Rule of Law’?
4) Do these arrests made under the UAPA have a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19?