Activists held for alleged Maoist links return home after Supreme Court reprieve
A day after the Supreme Court refused custody of the five activists — lawyer and trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj, poet P Varavara Rao, activist Gautam Navlakha, and lawyers Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves — to the police and ordered house arrest till September 6, Pune police commissioner K Venkatesham said investigations will continue in the case.Updated: Aug 31, 2018 09:47 IST
Civil society members on Thursday demanded action against the Pune police for a “vicious and malafide attack” against five activists arrested for alleged Maoist links, even as the investigators contended they had digital evidence to lead the probe to its logical conclusion and state government officials said they will present a “strong case” in the Supreme Court.
A day after the Supreme Court refused custody of the five activists — lawyer and trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj, poet P Varavara Rao, activist Gautam Navlakha, and lawyers Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves — to the police and ordered house arrest till September 6, Pune police commissioner K Venkatesham said investigations will continue in the case.
“We will continue to investigate the case and will take it to its logical end. We have got some leads about people’s links with banned organisation,” said Venkatesham. He said investigating officials have strong “digital evidence”, which will be submitted in the court.
In Delhi, activists called the Tuesday arrests a mockery of the legal system. “It is a coup against the Constitution. It is a very dire situation, potentially more dangerous than the Emergency,” writer Arundhati Roy said, flanked by lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, among others.
The five activists have been charged with criminal conspiracy, creating fear and enmity between groups, and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The arrests were part of an investigation into violence that broke out in Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra on January 1 during the bicentennial celebration of a British-era war by Dalits.
State government officials said on the condition of anonymity that they assured the Centre they possessed strong evidence in the form of literature and communication seized from devices.
“We had detailed communication with our legal cell in Delhi in the backdrop of the remarks by the SC. We are in the process of dispatching the documents to Delhi, and by Wednesday, the submission in the SC will be completed. Sensitive documents will be submitted to the court in sealed envelopes,” an official from the home department said.
According to Pune Police, an event called Elgar Parishad on December 31, 2017 in Pune where various activists and Dalit organisations came together, was responsible for stoking the violence the next day. In June, the police arrested five people -- activist Sudhir Dhawale, lawyer Surendra Gadling, activist Rona Wilson, researcher Mahesh Raut, and retired professor Shoma Sen – for alleged Maoist ties. A separate probe by Pune (rural) police in the January 1 violence has named two Hindu right wing leaders, Milind Ekbote and Shambhaji Bhide.
Senior Pune police officials said on the condition of anonymity they recovered “incriminating” and “conclusive” evidence. “What we submitted before the court on Wednesday was part of evidence. We have around 250 documents and large amount of electronic evidence, which we will submit in the court,” said another senior official monitoring the probe who asked not to be named.
“We are confident of nailing the suspects,” said Venkatesham.
Pune Police has claimed before the court that the arrested activists were allegedly part of an “anti-fascist” front of the Maoists, were involved in recruiting students and young people, had links with separatists in Kashmir and were intending to strike “high functionaries” in the government. Defence lawyers have rejected the charges, and questioned the arrests.
First Published: Aug 31, 2018 00:08 IST