The Bombay High Court on Tuesday acquitted former Delhi University professor GN Saibaba and five others accused of having links with Maoists, reported Bar and Bench.

Saibaba was first arrested in the case in May 2014 but was granted bail twice. He has been lodged in the Nagpur Central Jail since a sessions court convicted him on March 7, 2017.

A bench of Justices Vinay Joshi and Valmiki SA Menezes set aside the judgement of a sessions court that had convicted the accused persons in 2017. Apart from Saibaba, the High Court acquitted Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Pora Narote, Hem Keshwdatta Mishra, Prashant Rahi, Vijay Nan Tirki. Narote died in prison on August 26, 2022 due to swine flu.

Hours later, the court dismissed the Maharashtra government’s application seeking a six-week stay on the acquittal of Saibaba and the five others, Live Law reported. The state govenrment’s application stated that it has approached the Supreme Court against the verdict and that implementing the judgement in the meantime will create serious repercussions.

On October 14, 2022, the High Court had acquitted Saibaba, holding that a sessions court in Gadchiroli charged Saibaba under provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act without sanction from the Centre. However, the order was suspended by the Supreme Court a day later on a petition filed by the Maharashtra government.

On April 19, 2023, a division bench of the top court comprising Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar set aside the acquittal order and remanded the matter to the High Court for fresh consideration.

Wheelchair-bound Saibaba, who is 90% disabled, was convicted by the trial court in 2017 for allegedly having links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and a frontal organisation, the Revolutionary Democratic Front. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment.

In its 2022 judgement, the High Court said that the sanction order issued to prosecute the accused persons in the case under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was “bad in law and invalid”.

The court had said that while the state must fight terror with “unwavering resolve”, a civil democratic society could not sacrifice due process of law on account of perceived danger to national security.

Last year, United Nations Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor had said that India’s persistent detention of Saibaba was an “inhumane and senseless act” that needed to end.

Lawlor, who has been in contact with the Indian government regarding the case, said that the UN human rights experts have repeatedly raised grave concerns about his prosecution. His detention was declared arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in an opinion issued in 2021, she said.

“Mr Saibaba has been detained in a high security ‘anda barracks’ in conditions incompatible with his status as a wheelchair user,” the UN expert had said. “His 8×10 feet cell has no window and one wall made of iron bars, exposing him to extreme weather, especially in the scorching summer heat.”

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