Activist Rona Wilson on Monday told the Bombay High Court that the violence in Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018, was not caused by the Elgar Parishad conclave held on the previous day, reported Live Law. He also argued that the case would not attract the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Several activists and academics have been accused of making speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave held at Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the authorities claim triggered violence at the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial the next day. One person was killed and several others were injured in the incident. Many have been jailed in connection with the violence.
On Monday, a bench of Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar was hearing Wilson and activist Shoma Sen’s petitions, challenging the sanction to prosecute them under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Both petitioners have referred to a report by Arsenal Consulting, a United States-based digital forensics company. The report found that an attacker allegedly used malware to infiltrate Wilson’s laptop before his arrest in 2018 and deposited at least 10 incriminating letters on his computer.
The Pune Police had used the letters found on the laptop as primary evidence in the chargesheet they filed in the case. Another report by the firm in July revealed that the computer of advocate Surendra Gadling, another detainee in the case, was also hacked to plant evidence.
In an affidavit filed earlier, the Pune Police had opposed the use of the Arsenal Consulting report in the case. The police had said that the report was not a part of their chargesheet or the one by the National Investigation Agency.
“It is a settled position of law that documents which are not relied upon in the charge sheet cannot be relied upon by the petitioner, and as such, there is no question of looking into the report of M/s Arsenal Consulting and as such the entire contention of the petitioner [to quash the chargesheet] deserves to be rejected,” the affidavit had said.
During the hearing, the advocates for the accused told the High Court that the Elgar Parishad event and the site of the Bhima Koregaon violence were apart by 7 kilometres. The lawyers pointed out that two different first information reports were registered for the two incidents, reported PTI.
Wilson’s counsel Indira Jaising said the Maharashtra government told the Supreme Court that Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote and some others were responsible for the Bhima Koregoan violence.
“When Milind Ekbote approached Supreme Court for anticipatory bail, the Maharashtra government submitted in an affidavit that he is responsible for the attack and hence his pre-arrest bail was rejected,” Jaising submitted. “Then they [Maharasthra government] changed [their narravtive] and said that these people [the accused in the case] are responsible. Can these two narratives stand?”
Jaising also raised questions on the authenticity and legality of the evidence recovered from Wilson’s computer and from the electronic devices of the other accused in the case. She demanded an investigation into the alleged tampering of evidence.
The bench then said that the matter would be considered by the special court at the time of trial.
However, Jaising and Sen’s counsel, Anand Grover, said that the High Court must consider what constitutes as electronic legal evidence, irrespective of the trial court’s decision.
Jaising also pointed out that the petitioners had been undertrials for three years, and that there was no clarity on when the trial would begin.
“You can prosecute me for the violence, but where does UAPA come in?” she argued. ‘Where is the allegation of sovereignty and integrity of India? Every riot is not an offence under UAPA. This is a case of selective prosecution.”
The High Court will continue the hearing on the pleas on August 4.
The continued detention of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case has triggered outrage from several quarters since the custodial death of 84-year-old tribal rights activist Stan Swamy on July 5. He was denied bail repeatedly, despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease and even contracting the coronavirus infection. The Jesuit priest was detained under the anti-terrorism law in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence case without any reliable evidence.
The others who are accused of making inflammatory speeches include academics and activists Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Varavara Rao and Sudha Bharadwaj.