Bombay HC grants anticipatory bail to 22-year-old TISS student caught in sedition row

Urvashi Chudawala was charged with sedition last year for allegedly shouting slogans in support of jailed Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam at an LGBTQ event in Mumbai
Bombay High Court | Pic: Wikimedia
Bombay High Court | Pic: Wikimedia

The Bombay High Court has granted anticipatory bail to a 22-year-old student of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), who was charged with sedition last year for allegedly shouting slogans in support of jailed Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam at an LGBTQ event in Mumbai.

In an order passed on October 30, a single bench presided over by Justice NJ Jamadar confirmed the interim protection from arrest given earlier to the student — Urvashi Chudawala — and granted her anticipatory bail after it was informed by the prosecution that only forensic reports were awaited in the ongoing probe in the case. The HC directed Chudawala to co-operate with the probe into the case and prohibited her from leaving the country without prior permission from the court.

In February last year, the police had booked Chudawala and 50 others under sedition charges for raising “anti-national” slogans in support of Imam and against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), at the Mumbai Pride Gathering event organised on February 1 at Azad Maidan. Imam had been arrested for allegedly delivering an inflammatory speech and inciting violence during the CAA-NRC protests in 2019.

Chudawala had approached the HC soon after seeking anticipatory bail. At the time, another single bench of the high court had granted her interim relief and said in the event of her arrest, Chudawala be released on a personal bond of Rs 20,000. It had adjourned her anticipatory bail plea for further hearing at the time.

On October 30, while disposing of the plea, Justice Jamadar noted that while granting her interim protection on February 11 last year, the HC had said in its order that merely raising slogans did not amount to sedition.

"Merely showing solidarity with a person or a group of persons, who are exercising their opposition to the CAA and the National Register of Citizens, prima facie, may not be sufficient to believe that the applicant had in fact caused and/or attempted to cause disaffection against the government," the HC had said at the time. Justice Jamadar said the court's observations made while granting Chudawala interim relief continued to be relevant at the present stage.

It also took into account the argument of advocate Vijay Hiremath, who appeared for Chudawala. Hiremath told the HC that the entire case was based on a video which was already in custody of the police, and thus there was no need for her custodial interrogation.

Additional Public Prosecutor Anamika Singh, appearing for the Maharashtra government, informed the court that the investigation had reached an advanced stage and only forensic reports were awaited. The HC noted that Chudawala's custodial interrogation was not required in the case at the present stage.

"The reasons ascribed by this court, while granting interim relief, govern the determination of the application finally as well," the HC said. "At this length of time, the custodial interrogation of the applicant does not seem warranted for investigation. The interim order dated February 11, 2020 is made absolute," it said.

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