A special court in Kochi granted bail to two Kerala students who were arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for their alleged Maoist links, saying their political beliefs or presence at anti-government protests does not make them complicit in terrorist activity, Live Law reported on Friday. The court further observed the mere possession of literature on Maoist ideology or class struggle does not prove anything adverse against the accused.

“[The] right to protest is a constitutionally guaranteed right,” the bench noted. “A protest against policies and decisions of the government, even if it is wrong a wrong cause, cannot be termed as sedition or an intentional act to support cession or secession.”

The court was hearing the bail plea of students Allan Shuaib and Thwaha Fasal, who were charged under the anti-terror law by the National Investigation Agency for their alleged affiliation with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Both of them were arrested 10 months ago, according to The Wire.

During the hearing on September 9, the NIA produced 12 categories of evidence seized from the students, which mostly included political pamphlets, banners and readings. Some of the documents the central agency produced were notices to demand implementation of the Madhav Gadgil Committee report for the protection of Western Ghats, condemnation of encounter killings of Maoists, and protests against police atrocities. The list also included books that propagated “Marxist ideologies” and “Islam ideology”.

Besides this, the NIA claimed to have seized writings, photos and videos supporting the “dissections and disruptive forces” in Jammu and Kashmir. The investigative agency also cited evidence to prove the strong inclination of the accused students towards extremist ideology and “acceptance of the path of violence to achieve the ultimate objective of CPI (Maoist) organisation”.

However, the court observed that a large part of the documents related to “burning political issues” that were seized of the accused were freely available in the public domain and were related to current issues. The court added that none of these materials pointed to any violent terrorist activity by the students. “These all pertain to issues debated and discussed in the social and political sphere and all the protests were conducted peacefully without any element of violence,” it said.

The court further stated that the fact that books and video-clips found with the accused were the same as literature recovered from killed Maoists did not lead to any conclusion, as those were not banned books or clips. “The scribblings in short words, projected by the NIA as code words, do not give any link to any secret activity,” the court said.

It pointed out that these allegedly incriminating books, pamphlets, banners etc were kept freely in the students’ houses “without any concealment”.

“The oral statements of the witnesses also did not indicate that the accused abetted terrorist or unlawful activities,” the court added. “Prima facie, there exists many missing links in establishing that the accused were cadets of CPI (Maoist) organisation and their movements are controlled by the organisation.”

During the hearing, the NIA had also referred to a private diary maintained by one of the students, Shuaib, in which he allegedly wrote about adopting the “path of violence” and fighting against the government “with guns”. But the court dismissed the argument and said these could be “immature thoughts” that do not lay out any blueprint for any specific attack and appeared to be a generalised view about a people’s revolution.

“A diary is a place where you record events, experiences and other personal things that may interest you, hurt you or pain you,” it said. “You can write about whatever you like, free of outside judgement or criticism. It should be an extension of mind, safe and free...A provocative thought does not ipso facto prove preparation for crime.”