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'No Malicious Motive To Subvert The Government': Kerala High Court Grants Anticipatory Bail To Aisha Sultana In Sedition Case

HANNAH MARY VARGHESE
25 Jun 2021 5:35 AM GMT
No Malicious Motive To Subvert The Government: Kerala High Court Grants Anticipatory Bail To Aisha Sultana In Sedition Case
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The Kerala High Court on Friday allowed the anticipatory bail application filed by Aisha Sultana earlier this month. Justice Ashok Menon cited that prima facie, the applicant did not have a malicious motive to subvert the Government established by law by merely using the strong words to express her vehemence in disapproval of the subject under discussion. Lakshadweep filmmaker...

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The Kerala High Court on Friday allowed the anticipatory bail application filed by Aisha Sultana earlier this month. Justice Ashok Menon cited that prima facie, the applicant did not have a malicious motive to subvert the Government established by law by merely using the strong words to express her vehemence in disapproval of the subject under discussion.

Lakshadweep filmmaker Aisha Sultana approached the High Court after an FIR was registered against her in the Kavaratti Police Station, accusing her of offences under Section 124A and 153B of IPC. A notice was also issued to her u/s 41A CrPC directing her to appear for interrogation.

Senior Adv. P Vijayabhanu on behalf of the applicant submitted that the bail application was filed since she apprehended imminent arrest and detention pursuant to interrogation.

The Court had previously granted her an interim anticipatory bail on 17th June, while ordering her to appear before the Kavaratti Police Station on the notified day. She was also made entitled to demand the presence of her counsel under Section 41D CrPC by the said order.

Background of the Case:

The applicant pointed out that until January 2021, not a single case of Covid 19 was reported in the island due to the strict quarantine system in place. However, consequent to the appointment of the new Administrator, the SOP was relaxed to the extent of forgoing the mandatory quarantine for persons entering the islands.

As a result, Lakshadweep started witnessing an exponential rise in Covid 19 cases. The primitive infrastructure and geographical limitations in the Union Territory deteriorated the situation.

During a discussion conducted by a TV channel Media One on 7th June 2021, this issue came up for debate. In response, the applicant alleged that the Centre had deployed a 'Biological weapon' against the people of the island.

Consequently, a complaint was lodged by C. Abdul Khader, the Lakshadweep BJP President, against the serious allegations made by the applicant. This was registered as an FIR, which led to the issuance of notice to the applicant.

Applicant's Contentions

It was submitted that the 'bio weapon' remark was made by the applicant merely to criticize the apathetic approach in the reforms brought about by the new Administrator, posing a serious threat to the lives of the people of the island.

The application stated that the applicant had no intention to excite disaffection towards the government .In fact, on understanding that it had resulted in controversies, she immediately explained her stand and apologized for hurting the sentiments of a few persons through her social media handles and several interviews.

Accordingly, it was asserted that she was innocent and that the allegations of sedition and inciting disharmony among groups of people were not only false and unsustainable, but also made with ulterior motive and vexatious intentions.

The Counsel for the applicant also submitted that there can be no dispute that the right to freedom of speech and expression under Art. 19 carries with it the right to propagate and circulate one's views and opinions subject to reasonable restrictions.

Administration's Arguments

The Senior Central Government Standing Counsel for the Lakshadweep Administration, Adv S Manu submitted that the applicant's baseless assertions have serious consequences against the Central Government.

It was also pointed out that despite being cautioned by the TV anchor, she stood by her statement, and asserted that she is ready to face the consequences of her statement. Moreover, comparison of the situation with that of China using Corona virus as a bio weapon against other countries, expressly indicated her intention behind the statement.

The Administration alleged that through her statements, the applicant had attempted to bring hatred or contempt, and to excite disaffection towards the Government.

Moreover, it was contended that such statements incited the people of Lakshadweep against the integrity of India and are likely to cause disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will between the residents of the island and the citizens of the rest of the country.

On similar lines, it was also argued that actual violence need not be followed in consequence to seditious words.

In addition, they contended that the bail application was not maintainable since there was no genuine or bona fide 'reason to believe' that the applicant may be arrested for a non-bailable offence.

Observations of the Court

Justice Ashok Menon after hearing both the parties observed that "the statement made by the applicant in the discussion will have to be taken in its entirety and words cannot be taken in isolation to suggest motive."

It was found that prima facie, the applicant did not have a malicious motive to subvert the Government established by law by merely using the strong word 'bio weapon' to express her vehemence in disapproval of the subject under discussion.

The Court observed that the applicant's intention was to merely criticize the relaxation of SOP by the Administrator. On that note, it was observed as follows:

"The decisive ingredient for establishing the offence of sedition under S.124-A IPC is the doing of certain acts which would bring the Government established by law in India into hatred or contempt etc. In this case, there is not even a suggestion that applicant did anything as such against the Government of India."

As regards to the offence under Section 153B, the Single Judge held that there was no apparent indication in her statement which amounts to imputations or assertions prejudicial to the national interest, nor does it propagate any class of persons against another group of persons.

While emphasizing that no decision will be made on the merits of the accusations leveled against the applicant since it was a bail application, the Court held thus: "Prima facie, the offences alleged by the prosecution are not attracted."

Since there was nothing on record to show that the applicant might not cooperate with the investigation, the application was allowed and the interim anticipatory bail was made absolute.

Title: Aisha Sultana v. Union Territory of Lakshadweep

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