Three of the activists arrested on Tuesday were “active members” of the banned outfit, Communist Party of India (Maoist), prosecutors told a court in Pune on Wednesday. Varavara Rao, one of the activists, was acting as a conduit to negotiate with an arms dealer based in Nepal, the prosecutors alleged.

The police produced Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira and Varavara Rao before a sessions court on Wednesday to seek their custody. The sessions court judge said the Supreme Court has ordered to keep them under house arrest till September 6.

Gonsalves and Ferreira were arrested in Mumbai and Rao in Hyderabad on Tuesday. Two other activists who were arrested on Tuesday, Gautam Navlakha and Sudha Bharadwaj, are under house arrest in Delhi and Faridabad after their transit remand to Pune was stayed by courts.

The prosecution claimed the accused had together formed a front that was “anti-fascist” – the “All India United Front”. The front was formed to overthrow the government, the court was told.

Prosecutors told the court in Pune that Ferreira’s work is propaganda for Maoists, which inspires young minds and is therefore involved in recruitment. They claimed that two students were specifically radicalised by him.

The prosecution also presented before the court a letter that allegedly showed there was a threat of an assassination like that of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. They claimed that the current priorities of Maoist leaders is to get arrested professor GN Saibaba released and to hire best lawyers to get members released.

The prosecution acknowledged the names of the accused were not in the First Information Report filed after violence in Bhima Koregaon, but said the law does not require this.

The prosecution also said there were letters that prove that leading Maoist comrades were happy with the work of the accused. The prosecution said the letters indicated that Maoist leaders acknowledged that Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani and student activist Umar Khalid “could make good full-time comrades if cultivated properly”.

The prosecutor alleged a Maoist link to the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir and said that the accused were conduits in the matter.

Defence lawyer Rohan Nahar began his arguments by citing that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, under the which the accused were booked, provides for references to substances including bombs, firearms, or other substances that could be radioactive or hazardous in nature and potential damage. “No such instances happened in Bhima Koregaon,” Nahar said.

The defence lawyer challenged the use of the terms “intent of inciting speech” and “illegal” in the police statement. Nahar also questioned what was illegal in forming a fact-finding committee.

Ferreira, represented himself in court, challenged the need for police custody of himself and other accused. Ferreira said the authors of the letters were taken into remand and interrogated and that the documents were sent to the forensic laboratory for investigation four months ago.

Prosecutor Ujjwala Pawar asked the court to grant police custody of the accused based on the letters that were submitted as evidence to the court.

The arrests

Houses of several activists were raided by the Pune Police on Tuesday morning in Mumbai, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Delhi, Faridabad and Goa. The raids were in connection with investigations into a public meeting organised before caste-related violence erupted at Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1.

By Tuesday evening, the police confirmed the arrests of five activists – Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, Gautam Navlakha in New Delhi, Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad, Varavara Rao in Hyderabad. has reviewed the search warrants, which cite sections of the anti-terrorism law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to the offence of promoting enmity between groups. The National Human Rights Commission has issued notices to the chief secretary and director general of police of Maharashtra over the arrests.