Bhima Koregaon case: Family members raise concerns over delayed trial, prison conditions

Marking the second anniversary of some of the arrests in the Bhima Koregaon violence case, family members of the accused on Saturday raised concerns over the delayed trial and poor conditions of prisons, while maintaining that their loved ones had been jailed on false charges.

A group of 12 activists, lawyers, writers and academics were jailed in connection with the violence that broke out in Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018, following the Elgar Parishad event the previous day. They were accused of inciting violence and were charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency from the Maharashtra police this year.

Speaking at a webinar organised by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Maaysha Bharadwaj, the daughter of one of those in jail — lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj — said she was worried about her mother’s health.

She said two medical reports from the jail said her mother had heart disease, but a third report did not show it.

Academic Vernon Gonsalves’ son, Sagar Gonsalves, said his father had been in jail for two years and had continued to teach, helping other inmates with English and legal studies. He said the family had to make several calls to get any information about Mr. Gonsalves’ health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is torture for a person to go through this on false charges and for the family too,” he said.

One of the recent arrests, of Delhi University professor Hany Babu on July 28, had been based on “fabricated evidence”, his wife, Professor Jenny Rowena said.

Advocate Vrinda Grover, who has represented those arrested in August 2018 in the case, said there had been no allegation of violence committed by the accused. She termed the case “criminalisation of dissent” as those arrested had raised their voices on various issues.

“Actually, the conspiracy is against all of us to take away our rights under the Constitution,” she said.

Lawyer Mihir Desai, who represented Mr. Gonsalves and another accused, scholar Anand Teltumbde, said the purpose of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) was “not to convict, but to keep in jail as long as possible” those held under provisions of the Act.

Senior advocate Rebecca John spoke about the UAPA, saying that the reason the trial had not started was that the investigation was ongoing as more arrests were being made. Under the Act, prosecutors can ask for additional time, till 180 days, to complete the investigation, so after every arrest, they can get 180 days more. She said this was one of the provisions that was abused to prolong the investigation. She added that the onus had shifted to the accused when it came to proving that no prima facie case was made out against them when applying for bail.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan spoke at the webinar about the Supreme Court “okay-ing UAPA”, which he said was against the Constitution, and not stopping the misuse of the law in most cases.

Mr. Bhushan has been recently convicted of contempt for tweets about the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to give the sentence on Monday.

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