A day after a bench of the Bombay High Court canceled the bail of wheelchair-bound  GN Saibaba, the Delhi University academic accused of having links with the banned CPI(Maoist), and charged author Arundhati Roy with criminal contempt for writing about the circumstances of his detention, senior lawyers and civil liberties activists on Thursday criticised the order as shocking, unfortunate, and deplorable.

They questioned the timing and the nature of the order that requires Saibaba, who he is paralysed from waist-downward, to surrender at Nagpur jail within 48 hours by Friday. With all courts closed for winter break till January 4, Saibaba has limited options to approach the Supreme Court to obtain a stay on the High Court's order.

The activists and the lawyers described the contempt order against Roy as an attack on a citizen's fundamental rights to express and to dissent.  The court has taken objection to her article “Professor P.O.W.” in Outlook magazine in May.

They questioned whether commenting or writing selective issuance of bail by courts was adequate grounds for inviting contempt of court.

'Travesty of justice'

Referring to the order as a travesty of justice, senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said there were three grounds for denial of bail to an undertrial, none of which were satsfied in the Saibaba case. “Bail can be denied if the court feels he will flee, or if he has committed a heinous crime and is likely to repeat such an offense, or is likely to tamper with evidence if released on bail,” Bhushan said. “Professor Saibaba is 90% disabled and was granted bail because his health condition was deteriorating in jail. Last six months that he was out in bail, he did not flee from trial. He has not committed a heinous offence, he is accused of contact with the Maoists. At most, the court could have imposed certain conditions on him. With chargesheet already filed, there is no question of him tampering with evidence.”

The lawyer pointed out that while the chargesheet in the Saibaba case had been filed two years ago, the trial had barely started.

Bhushan added: “In her article, author Arundhati Roy had pointed out that Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi and others have got bail after being sentenced, while Dr Saibaba who has not even been proved guilty was denied bail for 14 months. If citizens do not have the right to question the judiciary and judicial orders, where will reform in judicial processes come from?”

Moushumi  Basu, who teaches at Jawahar Lal Nehru University and is a member of the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, said that the order undermined fundamental and civil rights of citizens and that lawyers, writers, journalists, activist would need to respond to it together. “By devoting reams of pages to Roy's article, and referring to Purnima Upadhayay, a litigant on whose public interest litigation Saibaba had got bail in July, as a ‘so-called social worker’, the judge has gone beyond the legal brief,” she claimed.

Vasantha, Saibaba's wife said that in Saibaba's case, it was the police and the judiciary that had flouted the law. “At first, in September 2013, Maharashtra police searched our home on the Delhi University campus without a search warrant, then in May 2014 they abducted my husband when he was returning home from the university, intercepting his car and arresting him when he was barely 100 feet away from the house,” she claimed. “They neither informed family members of his arrest, nor did they produce him in the local court in Delhi as the law required.”

Vasantha criticised the court order, which cites a report of the Out-Patient Department of the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre dated December 2, advising Saibaba to continue physiotherapy, exercises and medication to treat “reduction in left shoulder movements and pain in back” as proof that Saibaba's health condition is “perfectly normal and in the same position as it was when he was in jail”.

Case is planned

She said she aims to file a legal case against the police and the judiciary for the damage they had caused to her husband's health and body. She said that when Saibaba was arrested in May 2014, he had 90% disability only in both legs. But by the time he finally got bail in July 2015, his left arm which was functional earlier had got disabled. “My husband needs help in even using the toilet,” she said. “There, he could not even access a western toilet for six months, he was exposed to the rain and cold in the solitary anda [extra-security] cell. His left arm's ligament and spinal cord got damaged in jail. The court wants him to now surrender within 48 hours. Do they have any idea of the problems a 90% disabled person faces?”

In a written statement, Professor Saibaba stated that he would surrender to the authorities as required but was confident of proving his innocence during trial. “I am being persecuted on false charges and there is no evidence to justify my prosecution under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,” he stated.

Author Arundhati Roy said she would respond to the order in court. Roy has been given until January 25 to reply.