India’s top court refuses to release 5 rights activists

Rejects plea for a court-monitored investigation into the allegations against them

NEW DELHI: India’s top court on Friday rejected pleas by five rights activists that they be freed a month after being arrested for alleged links to Maoist rebels.

The Supreme Court said in a 2-1 verdict that the activists were not arrested because of their political views, but because there was prima facie evidence of connections between them and the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

The court, however, directed that the activists be held under house arrest for four more weeks to help them seek bail from lower courts while police in Maharashtra state complete their investigation.

The court also rejected the activists’ plea for a court-monitored investigation into the allegations against them.

Leading Indian authors, lawyers and civil society leaders have called the Aug. 28 arrests illegal and an attack on the right to dissent.

The government says Maoist rebels are active in several states and pose India’s biggest internal security threat. The rebels, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting the government for more than four decades, demanding land and jobs for the poor and indigenous communities.

Those arrested were Telugu-language poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Farreira in Mumbai, and Gautam Navalakha and Sudha Bhardwaj in New Delhi and a neighbouring town.

Police in Pune said they have evidence suggesting there was a plan by Maoists to target the country’s “highest political functionaries.”

Police also accused the five of delivering speeches that triggered protests and violence between low-caste Dalits and right-wing groups near Pune in December.

In June, police arrested five other activists on suspicion of also inciting the Dalits, who have been marginalised for centuries and forced to perform jobs considered unacceptable by other castes.

Caste prejudice is endemic in Hindu-majority India, even though the constitution outlaws the practice and has made it a crime punishable by up to a year in prison.

Ruling vindicates Pune police: Fadnavis

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Friday welcomed the Supreme Court ruling on the arrest of five rights activists and termed it a “victory for the Pune police and the country.”

“We welcome the decision based on Pune police investigations and evidence it collected has been considered valid. The court has said it will not interfere in the investigations,” Fadnavis said to the media here.

He pointed out that the apex court had accepted that there is no political influence nor a plot to suppress opposition voice.

“They (activists) have been indulging in this for many years, but since there was no evidence, the probe was incomplete,” Fadnavis added.

He said that the verdict vindicates the government’s stand against urban Maoists who have been hatching a conspiracy to create unrest in the country.

“These persons have been working against the nation and planning to kill our Prime Minister. But we have collected all evidences against them and now will move the appropriate courts to seek their custody. They will not be spared,” Fadnavis said.

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