The Delhi High Court Monday dismissed a Manipur student activist's plea challenging his arrest and transit remand here in a sedition case against him for allegedly making remarks over the controversial Citizenship Bill on social media. Justice Sunil Gaur said prima facie it appeared that Veewon Thokchom's act attempted to bring hatred and incite disaffection to the government established by law.
The contentious Citizenship (amendment) Bill was cleared by the Lok Sabha on January 8 but it is set to lapse on June 3 as it was not tabled in the Rajya Sabha during the Budget Session after which the Upper House was adjourned sine die on February 13. Thokchom, former president of Manipur Students' Association, Delhi, was arrested by the Manipur police in Delhi on February 15 and was produced before a magistrate here on February 16 who granted five days transit remand till Tuesday.
The Manipur police had taken his transit remand to produce him before the concerned court in Imphal where the FIR was lodged against him. Thokchom, a civil services aspirant, filed the petition through his brother seeking quashing of the transit remand claiming it to be defective and without application of mind.
The high court, however, said it found that the remand order was not opposed by the 'remand advocate', who appeared on behalf the activist before the trial court, and the memo of arrest was offered to be given to his sister to which there was a resistance. "In any case, copy of memo of arrest has now been supplied to petitioner's counsel. It prima facie appears that the act committed by the accused/ petitioner's brother attempts to bring hatred and to incite disaffection towards the government established by law.
"Finding no infirmity in the impugned order,this petition and application are accordingly dismissed, while not commenting on the merits of the case," the court said. During the hearing, the counsel for Manipur police contended that misleading facts were being placed before the court by the activist's lawyer and he would be taken to the state to be produced before the concerned court tomorrow.
Advocate L Roshmani, representing the Manipur police, submitted that mobile number of the investigating officer was given to the activist's sister but she resisted and they had also offered to supply copy of memo of arrest but it was rejected. Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves and advocate Ajay Verma, appearing for Thokchom, said there was a video recording which showed that despite requests, copy of memo of arrest was not given to the family members and the place of his detention has not been disclosed.
They also cited the case of human rights activist Gautam Navlakha, who was arrested by the police here and released by the orders of the Delhi High Court in the Bhima Koregaon violence case. Delhi government standing counsel (criminal) Rahul Mehra along with advocate Jamal Akhtar, said the Manipur police had sought the assistance of Delhi Police and they made a DD entry about it and their role was limited to this.
Mehra was also of the view that this cannot be a case of sedition under Section 124A of the IPC and like this half of the country would have been charged with the provision. Earlier in the day, the matter was listed before another judge who transferred the petition to another bench for hearing due to some technical issues.
Thokchom's counsel claimed that the 23-year-old's arrest was illegal and after going through the FIR, no criminal offence, including sedition, was being made out. He was arrested and charged with sedition for a Facebook post critical of the Citizenship (amendment Bill). The petition has made state of Manipur, Delhi Police as also central and Delhi governments as parties.
If convicted, the offence of sedition could entail a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. The petition claimed that Thokchom has been actively engaged in the social issues affecting Manipur students in Delhi and elsewhere.
"He has, like millions of other citizens of this country, expressed his dissent about the Citizenship (amendment) Bill, 2018," it said. The plea claimed that Thokchom was assaulted at the time of arrest in front of his brother and was not given time to inform his family or to wear his clothes and slippers.
Following his arrest, his brother had filed a Habeas Corpus petition in the high court which was disposed of since a judicial transit remand order was already passed. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 provides for according Indian citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after seven years of residence in India instead of 12 years, which is the norm currently, even if they do not possess any document.