Toolkit case: Delhi court grants bail to Disha Ravi, terms evidence as scanty and sketchy

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New Delhi, Feb 23 (PTI)In a blow to Delhi police, a court here Tuesday granted bail to climate activist Disha Ravi, arrested in connection with allegedly being involved in sharing a 'toolkit' on social media related to the farmers' protest, saying citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic nation and cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with the State policies.

The court said the evidence produced by police against Ravi was “scanty and sketchy” and there was nothing on record to establish any direct link between her and pro­-Khalistan activists of 'Poetic Justice Foundation' (PJF) and also there was not even an iota of evidence brought connecting the perpetrators of the violence on January 26 in the national capital with the PJF or her.

Further, it observed that there was nothing on record to suggest that the activist subscribed to any secessionist idea and there is absolutely no link established on record between her and banned outfit Sikhs for Justice.

In the 18-page order, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana granted relief to Ravi on a personal bond of Rs one lakh and two sureties of like amount and noted that the 22-year-old activist who was arrested by a Cyber Cell team of the Delhi Police from Bengaluru on February 13, has “absolutely blemish free criminal antecedents”.

Ravi has been slapped with the charge of sedition in the case which entails maximum punishment of life sentence. She is also booked for the offences of criminal conspiracy, provoking people to cause riot and promoting enmity between different groups.

The judge said the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience and that there are no geographical barriers on communication and that creation of a WhatsApp group or being editor of an innocuous Toolkit was not an offence. While the order on bail was being pronounced, Ravi was produced before another court on expiry of her custodial interrogation by police, which sought her further custody by four days.

As soon as the hearing on police plea started, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Pankaj Sharma, who was informed about the bail order by the superior court, said “in view of the bail order, this application (seeking further custody) becomes infructuous. The application will be disposed of post confirmation of bail.” The activist appeared relieved after hearing that she was granted bail.

The Sessions Judge said 'considering the scanty and sketchy evidence available on record, I do not find any palpable reasons to breach the general rule of 'Bail' against a 22 years old young lady, with absolutely blemish free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society, and send her to jail,' the judge said.

The judge reproduced the relevant portions of the toolkit in its order and said that it's perusal revealed that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent. 'In my considered opinion, Citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic Nation. They cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with the State policies. The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments,' the court said.

The court said the difference of opinion, disagreement, divergence, dissent, or for that matter, even disapprobation, are recognised legitimate tools to infuse objectivity in state policies. “Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions,” the judge quoted from Rig Veda and said “this 5000 years old civilization of ours has never been averse to ideas from varied quarters”.

'An aware and assertive citizenry, in contradistinction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indisputably a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy,' the court said.

'The right to dissent is firmly enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. In my considered opinion the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience. 'There are no geographical barriers on communication. A citizen has the fundamental rights to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the four corners of law and as such have access to audience abroad,' the court said.

It said, “Further, since the link with the said toolkit or PJF has not been found to be objectionable, mere deletion of the WhatsApp chat to destroy the evidence linking her with the toolkit and PJF also becomes meaningless.” While observing that there is nothing on record to suggest that the applicant accused subscribed to any secessionist idea, the court said 'further, the prosecution has, except for pointing out that applicant/accused forwarded the toolkit to climate activist Greta Thunberg, failed to point out as to how the applicant/accused gave global audience to the 'secessionist elements'.' The court said that it was conscious of the fact that it was very difficult to collect evidence for the offence of conspiracy and the investigation was at a nascent stage and police which is in the process of collecting more evidence made a conscious choice to arrest Ravi the applicant accused upon the strength of material so far collected and 'now they cannot be permitted to further restrict the liberty of a citizen on the basis of propitious anticipations'. PTI UK PKS RKS RKS RKS