Bombay High Court: Owning or Downloading Literature Sympathising Certain Ideology Not A Criminal Offence

Bombay High Court: Owning or Downloading Literature Sympathising Certain Ideology Not A Criminal Offence

"Mere possession of such literature , having a particular political and social philosophy by itself is not contemplated as an offence under the UAPA," the bench said in a detailed 293-page judgment.

Urvi MahajaniUpdated: Wednesday, March 06, 2024, 11:44 PM IST
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Bombay High Court | File

The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court on Tuesday, while acquitting former Delhi University professor GN Saibaba and five others made scathing observations against the prosecution observing that merely possessing of downloading literature sympathising particular political and social philosophy would  not in itself constitute an offence under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

A bench of Justices Vinay Joshi and Valmiki SA Menezes also directed the accused to execute bonds of Rs 50,000 each to ensure their presence before the court when the state files appeal before the apex court. The bench set aside conviction and life sentences imposed by the trial court in 2017 on Saibaba, Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Narote, Hem Mishra, Prashant Sanglikar and Vijay Tirki. 

Background details of case

The police had conducted searches at the premises of Saibaba on September 12, 2013, and allegedly recovered incriminating material. However, the police claimed that when they tried to arrest Saibaba, they were stopped by his followers. Finally they arrested him on May 9, 2014, almost eight months later.

The court refused to accept the police’s theory of his delayed arrest, saying: "It does not stand to reason because of law and order problems, the Police did not arrest him."

The bench said that the documents and material seized by the prosecution would perhaps demonstrate that they were “sympathisers” of a Maoist philosophy. “Mere possession of such literature , having a particular political and social philosophy by itself is not contemplated as an offence under the UAPA,” the bench said in a detailed 293-page judgment. 

Common knowledge that one can access Naxal info online

It is  common knowledge that one can access a huge amount of information from the website of Communist or Naxal philosophy regarding their activities. “Merely because a citizen downloads this material or even sympathises with the philosophy, would itself not be an offence unless there is specific evidence led by the prosecution," the bench added. 

The court emphasised that the prosecution has produced "no evidence" to link the accused persons with any incident, attack or act of violence committed by participating in its preparation or providing support to its commission.

The prosecution had shown certain videos of a rally at Hyderabad in 2012 where allegedly inflammatory speeches were made. The bench said that the video was taken in an open space which was accessible to any member of the public. “The content of the speeches may portray dissent or criticism or even a streak of militancy, but by themselves, the content of these videos do not in any manner portray any acts of ‘terrorism’,” the judges opined. 

"We reject the arguments of the prosecution that the content of electronic evidence produced, though not proved, by itself constitutes an offence under any of the provisions of the UAPA,” it said. The judges further said that besides vague allegations that they have conspired to wage war against the Government or advocated arms struggle, there is no other material. The preparatory act must be for commission of a terrorist act.

The prosecution had produced Call Data Records (CDR) to show that the accused were in touch with each other. “CDR will only show their acquaintance with each other, which factor without corroboration will yield nothing. It is difficult to accept that have conspired and made preparations to commit a terrorist act which is not spelt out.”

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