New Delhi, February 23: A Sessions Court in Delhi Tuesday granted bail to climate activist Disha Ravi, who was arrested in connection with a toolkit on the farmers’ protest that was tweeted by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. The court observed that the police investigation in the case was “scanty and sketchy”.
Ravi was released from Tihar jail on Tuesday night.
In his order granting bail, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana said, “Considering the scanty and sketchy investigation, I do not find any palpable reason to breach the general rule of ‘ Bail’ against a 22 year old young lady, with absolutely blemish-free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society, and send her to jail..” The Indian Express reported.
The court has asked Ravi to not leave the country without its permission and to cooperate with the investigation.
Bengaluru-based Ravi, 22, was arrested on February 13 along with two other activists in connection with a toolkit on the farmers’ protest, which had been tweeted by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Ravi used to volunteer for Thunberg’s Fridays for Future (FFF) organisation in Bengaluru.
The Delhi Police has alleged that Ravi was the “key conspirator” in the formulation and dissemination of the document and that she collaborated with pro-Khalistani group Poetic Justice Foundation to “spread disaffection against Indian state” and also shared the doc with Thunberg. The police also claimed that Ravi had sent the toolkit to Thunberg through the Telegram app, and also “coaxed her to act on it”.
“Investigating agency can’t be permitted to further restrict liberty of citizen on basis of propitious anticipations,” the court said.
“Citizens are conscience keepers of government. They cannot be jailed simply because they choose to disagree with state policies,” it added.
The court also said there was no record to establish any direct link between Ravi and pro-Khalistan outfit ‘Poetic Justice Foundation’ (PJF). The court also said there was not any evidence brought connecting the perpetrators of the violence on January 26 with the PJF or her.
Further, it observed that there is nothing on record to suggest that the activist subscribed to any secessionist idea and there is absolutely no link established on record between her and banned outfit Sikhs for Justice.
The court quoted a phrase from Rig Veda to underscore respect for divergence in opinion. “This 5000-year-old civilisation of ours has never been averse to ideas from varied quarters,” the court order read.
“Even our founding fathers accorded due respect to the divergence of opinion by recognising the freedom of speech and expression as an inviolable fundamental right. The right to dissent is firmly enshrined under Article 19 of The Constitution of India. In my considered opinion, freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience. There are no geographical barriers to communication. A Citizen has the fundamental right to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the four corners of law and as such have access to an audience abroad,” it added.
The police produced Ravi at the court of Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Pankaj Sharma and moved an application for further four days of custody. However, the demand was dismissed after the court was informed that Ravi has been granted bail.
Furthermore, co-accused Shantanu Muluk, who had secured transit bail, have now moved an anticipatory bail before the same court which will be heard on Wednesday.
The order stated that creation of a WhatsApp group or being editor of an innocuous toolkit is not an offence. “Further, since the link with the said toolkit or PJF has not been found to be objectionable, mere deletion of the WhatsApp chat to destroy the evidence linking her with the toolkit and PJF, also becomes meaningless,” the court said.
The court, however, admitted it was conscious of the fact that the investigation was in its nascent stage and it was very difficult to collect evidence for the offence of conspiracy.
“I’m also conscious of the fact that the investigation is at a nascent stage, police is in the process of collecting more evidence, however, the investigating agency made a conscious choice to arrest the applicant accused upon the strength of material so far collected and now they cannot be permitted to further restrict the liberty of a citizen on the basis of propitious anticipations,” the court said.
It said conspiracy cannot be proved merely on the basis of inferences that have to be backed by evidence.
The police had told the court that co-accused Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk attended a Zoom meeting on January 11, 2020 with “60-70 people across the globe” including Dhaliwal and Lal. Following this, the accused persons, including Ravi, discussed the Toolkit on WhatsApp, which was created on January 28, “subject to certain modification by applicant”.
The court was told that this toolkit was shared by Shantanu to PJF. Ravi consented to this by sending a message that she read it, and as per their plan Shantanu came to Delhi days before the violence to carry out their plans.
Ravi’s lawyers had told the court that there was no evidence against Ravi and “having a difference of opinion does not amount to sedition”.
On Monday, the magistrate had remanded Ravi to one-day police custody, observing that while the case against the activist involves “allegations to spread hatred, disaffection” to “undermine India’s sovereignty”, “a balance must be struck with the individual’s right”. He had further said Ravi’s confrontation with her co-accused was necessary as “the role played by each of them in deletion of the original toolkit would come to light, which is very necessary for a fair investigation”.
Ravi was brought to the Delhi Police Cyber Cell office to be confronted with co-accused Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk. Jacob and Muluk had earlier secured transit bail from the Bombay High Court, providing them protection from arrest.