The Court will look into the arrests of five human rights activists under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The Court will consider whether it needs to:
(a) monitor the Maharashtra Police's investigation, and/or
(b) order an independent investigation via a Special Investigation Team.
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 five human rights activists by the Maharashtra Police. The human rights activists in question are Sudha Bhardwaj, Gautam Navalakha, Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Farreira.
On 28th August, Maharashtra Police carried out simultaneous raids across different parts of India, resulting in the arrest of the activists in question. The Maharashtra Police claim that the activists have 'Maoist links'. They used the UAPA to justify the raids. The Police allege that the activists were responsible for the Elgaar Parishad in January 2018, which triggered the Bhima Koregaon violence.
The petitioners contend that the Police are violating the activists' right to life (Article 21) and right to free expression (Article 19). They emphasise that the activists have been booked under the UAPA. Further, they allege that the Maharashtra Police 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 has been 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.
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?