In a judgment that offers hope to Binayak Sen, the Supreme Court has said that mere association with an unlawful organisation doesn’t automatically make a person guilty of a crime.
Rejecting the theory of “guilty by association”, a bench headed by justice Markandey Katju upheld the bail granted to Dr Raneef (the judgment mentions only one name) who treated one of the men accused of chopping the hand of Kerala Professor TJ Joseph in July 2010 for alleged blasphemy against Islam.
The police had arrested Raneef, who was not mentioned in the FIR, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for his association with the alleged perpetrators of the crime, members of the Popular Front of India. There is no ban on the Front.“We are of the opinion that at this stage, there is no prima facie proof that the respondent was involved in the crime,” the bench said.
Sen, an award-winning doctor working in the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh, was, on December 24, convicted of sedition and sentenced to life by a Raipur court for his alleged association with Maoist insurgents despite the lack of any evidence to show that he indulged in violence or supported violent activities.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves said: “Sen’s case stands on a better footing (than Raneef’s) as he was not even a member of any unlawful organisation. It squarely applies to his case, particularly because Sen did not indulge in any violent activity.”
Quoting from a 1966 US Supreme Court decision, the Supreme Court said: “Those who join an organisation but do not share its unlawful purpose and who do not participate in its unlawful activities surely pose no threat… A law that applies to membership without the ‘specific intent’ to further the illegal aims of the organisation infringes unnecessarily on protected freedoms. It rests on the doctrine of ‘guilt by association’, which has no place here.”