The Kerala High Court will on Thursday hear an anticipatory bail plea filed by filmmaker Aisha Sultana in a sedition case filed against her in Lakshadweep, the Hindustan Times reported.
On June 10, the police booked Sultana for saying that the Centre was using the Union Territory’s administrator Praful Khoda Patel as a “bio-weapon” against the residents. The Lakshadweep unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party had filed a complaint, accusing her of making “anti-national” comments “tarnishing the patriotic image of the central government” during a debate on a Malayalam news channel.
A slew of regulations introduced by Patel has triggered a massive outcry among the residents of the Union Territory as well as Opposition parties.
On Tuesday, during the first hearing of the plea, Justice Ashok Menon sought a response from the police in Lakshadweep’s capital Kavaratti. The court had adjourned the matter till Thursday, Live Law reported.
In her bail plea, Sultana argued that criticism of political matters did not constitute sedition. Referring to two Supreme Court judgements, including one in the Vinod Dua case, the filmmaker contended that merely criticising the government did not amount to sedition if there was no incitement to violence.
Responding to another charge of Section 153B (assertions against national integration) of the Indian Penal Code under which she has been booked, Sultana submitted that it will not hold as what she said was not prejudicial to national integration or causing disharmony or feelings of enmity or hatred or ill-will.
The plea said that the sub-inspector at the Kavaratti police station had issued a notice under Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, instructing her to appear at the headquarters on June 20 for questioning. Sultana said she suspects that she might be arrested or detained.
The filmmaker added that she had been falsely implicated in the case due to ulterior motives and vexatious intentions. She stated that her protest was mainly against the new standard operating procedure related to Covid-19 in the Union Territory.
Sultana said that after the Covid-19 curbs were relaxed, cases began to increase on the islands. Sultana was invited to speak about the Covid-19 situation and had therefore made the remarks in that context, noting the approach of the new administrator.
“It is submitted that the applicant had only intended to say that it was due to the empathetic approach and reforms of the new administrator that serious threat is being caused to the lives of the people of the Island and had absolutely no intention of exciting disaffection towards the government,” said her plea, according to Live Law.
On June 11, twelve leaders and workers from the BJP unit in Lakshadweep resigned in protest against the sedition case against Sultana. Those who quit the party wrote to C Abdul Khader Haji, the chief of the party’s Lakshadweep unit, saying that the sedition case was “false and unjustified”. It was aimed at destroying her future, they added.
The proposed regulations
Residents of Lakshadweep have blamed Patel’s decision to relax quarantine norms for the rise in Covid-19 cases. For nearly a year, the Union Territory was free of the pandemic. The first coronavirus case was reported in Lakshadweep on January 18. As of Thursday morning, Lakshadweep has 484 active cases of coronavirus, 8,768 recoveries and 45 fatalities.
The new regulations by Patel include a proposed cow slaughter ban, a preventive detention law in the Union Territory – which has one of the lowest crime rates in the country – and a draft law proposing sweeping changes in land development rules.
Opposition parties have criticised Patel’s decisions related to the Union Territory and have asked for his removal from the post. The parties accused him of harassing locals and destroying the heritage of the island territory. Politicians have also alleged that Patel, who had served as Gujarat home minister, has been targeting Lakshadweep’s large Muslim population.