Activist Sudha Bharadwaj walks out of jail after over three years

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Lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, was released from Mumbai’s Byculla women’s jail on Thursday, NDTV reported. Bharadwaj was arrested in August 2018, and was granted default bail by the Bombay High Court last week.

The Bhima Koregaon case pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. Bharadwaj was among 16 people who were arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.

On Wednesday, a National Investigation Agency court ruled that Bharadwaj can be released from jail after furnishing a bail bond of Rs 50,000 and one or more sureties.

In its order, the court noted that Bharadwaj had been in jail for more than three years and that the central agency had expressed apprehensions of tampering with evidence.

The court also directed the activist to attend the proceedings of her trial and not make any statement to the media. Advocate Yug Chaudhry, representing Bharadwaj, urged the court to not stifle her fundamental rights and allow her to write if she wants.

Bharadwaj was granted default bail by a two-judge bench of the Bombay High Court on December 1. The court had asked her to approach the special National Investigation Agency court by December 8 to finalise modalities about her release and bail conditions.

She had applied for default bail on November 26, 2018. The chargesheet against her was filed on February 21, 2019.

Eight other accused persons in the case had also sought bail.

Of the nine applicants, only Bharadwaj got bail as her petition met the criteria required for default bail. She filed the application before the filing of the chargesheet and when her 90-day detention period was over.

The Bhima Koregaon case

The National Investigation Agency has alleged that Bharadwaj and 15 others were part of a conspiracy to incite violence at the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial near Pune on January 1, 2018. One person was killed and several others were injured in the incident.

The first chargesheet in the case was filed by the Pune Police in November 2018, which ran to over 5,000 pages. It named activists Sudhir Dhawale, Wilson, Gadling, Shoma Sen, and Mahesh Raut, all of whom were arrested in June 2018.

The police claimed that they had “active links” with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and accused the activists of plotting to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

One of the accused, 84-year-old tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, died in custody in July. Swamy, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and also contracted the coronavirus infection while in prison, was repeatedly denied bail despite his deteriorating health condition.

A supplementary chargesheet was filed later in February 2019, against Bharadwaj, poet Varavara Rao, activists Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves and banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) leader Ganapathy. The accused were charged with “waging war against the nation” and spreading the ideology of the CPI (Maoist), besides creating caste conflicts and hatred in the society.

The Centre transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency in January 2020 after the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra, led by Devendra Fadnavis, was defeated.

The continued imprisonment of activists and academicians in the Bhima Koregaon case based on allegedly flimsy evidence has been criticised by members of civil society.

In February, a United States-based digital forensics firm had found that at least 10 incriminating letters were planted on the laptop of one of the accused Rona Wilson. In July, it emerged that evidence was also planted on another detainee Surendra Gadling’s computer.

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