Student leader Veewon Thokchom’s arrest for ‘sedition’ over Facebook post on Citizenship Amendment Bill: Delhi High Court dismisses plea against transit remand

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]N February 15, 2019, at around 05:30 pm, a combined special team of Delhi and Manipur Police arrested Veewon Thokchom, a former student of Ambedkar University in New Delhi, and booked him under charges of sedition for writing an adverse opinion on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 on Facebook.

A local court in Delhi issued the transit remand to a team of Manipur police against which Veewon’s brother filed an appeal in the Delhi High Court. After hearing the appeal, Justice Sunil Gaur dismissed the plea challenging Veewon’s transit remand order.


Student leader arrested


Student leader Veewon Thokchom, who is a former president and now advisor to Manipur Students’ Association Delhi, was critical of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and was very vocal about his opinions on the same on social media. The Manipur Police alleged Veewon for spreading “provocative messages” regarding the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 which led to protests in Imphal, Manipur.

Venus Thokchom, Veewon’s brother, in an email said that the Police arrested the student leader “without providing any arrest warrant and also without giving him (Veewon) any time to wear proper clothes or even slippers, he was physically assaulted and put into a car. His laptop was also confiscated. His elder sister was a witness to this incident”.


Venus Thokchom in his email also said that police did not allow any family member and friends to meet Veewon or enter the premise of the Janakpuri Police Station where he was held.

Since the “FIR (against Veewon Thokchom) was registered in Lamlei Police Station, Imphal, Manipur, (and therefore) the Manipur Police is trying to take him back to Manipur so that his case is tried in the courts of Manipur, which will be dangerous for his life”, said Venus.


Appeal against the transit remand order rejected


On February 16, 2019, a local court in Delhi issued the transit remand order to a team of Manipur police to present student leader Veewon Thokchom before the court of the Imphal East District chief judicial magistrate by February 19, 2019.

Veewon’s brother moved to Delhi High Court challenging the transit remand and the matter was listed today, February 18, 2019, before Justice Mukta Gupta who directed the Investigation Officer to appear before the Court.

Colin Gonsalves who was appearing for Veewon’s brother, argued that the transit remand is illegal and referred Justice Muralidhar’s order in Gautam Navlakha’s case. Colin Gonsalves submitted to the Court that the petition should be treated as being under Section 482 of Cr.P.C. i.e. under the inherent powers of the High Court and not under write jurisdiction which is provided under Article 226 of Constitution. On this, Justice Mukta Gupta directed to list the petition before the appropriate roster bench today itself.

Thereafter, the plea challenging the Veewon’s transit remand order was listed before Justice Sunil Gaur and the hearing reassume at around 03:30 pm. Colin Gonsalves argued that a transit order cannot be passed in mechanical manner.

Justice Gaur asked Colin “if the FIR is (registered) in Manipur, let it be heard there”. When Colin pressed the Gautam Navlakha order, Justice Gaur said that the matter is pending before the Supreme Court.

When Colin submitted to the Court that the FIR was registered on Feburary 12, 2019 for the offence of sedition, then Advocate Rahul Mehta, who was appearing for Delhi Police, submitted to the court that “this can’t be Section 124 A, like this half the court would be charged”.

Colvin further argued by referring to Justice Muralidhar’s order in Gautam Navlakaha case that said that the transit remand order must show application of mind. He further added that “one must be informed the grounds of arrest, which I don’t know till now because no memo of arrest was given to me”. On this Justice Gaur asked the Investigating Officer to provide a copy of the case diary to Colin Gonsalves. Colin also submitted before the Court that police did not inform anyone about where Veewon was being taken and added that “even now I don’t know where he is”.

Justice Sunil Gaur dismissed the plea challenging Thokchom Veewon’s transit remand order and asserted that the Court did not find any infirmity in the order passed by the lower Court.

The Delhi High Court allowed the Manipur Police to take Manipur Students’ Association Delhi advisor Veewon Thokchom to Imphal in sedition case.


Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019


The 2019 Bill ( now lapsed) seeks to amend the Section 2 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 by relaxing the eligibility rules for an immigrant – belonging to six minority (non-Muslims) communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan – for getting Indian citizenship.

After the passing of the Bill in the Lok Sabha, there has been strong opposition to the Bill and the protests have been particularly vocal in the Northeastern States. The activists claimed that the Bill is against the interest of the indigenous people of the North-Eastern states.


National Register of Citizen


The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is being updated only in Assam under the supervision of the Supreme Court only those migrants who can prove that they arrived in India before March 24, 1971, would be granted Indian citizenship. Those who would not be included in the updated NRC would subsequently be disfranchised and declared foreigners for deportation, as per the Assam Accord of 1985.

The amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955 paves the way for non-Muslims who came to Assam from Bangladesh between January 1, 1966 and March 24 March 1974 to get citizenship, and put the ethnic and indigenous groups in Assam who do not have the requisite papers in a precarious position of being declared as stateless.

The final draft of the updated NRC which was published on July 30, 2018, had left out around 40 lakh people from 3.29 crore applicants. Reports suggest that even after the third extension to December 21, 2018, the claims process to be substantially inclusive. Now, the deadline for completing the exercise after processing the claims and objections is June 2019.

The ambiguous process is threatening the future of millions of people and raising the alarm bell for an imminent crisis in the entire region.



Sedition against dissenting opinion


Once again, the Government invoked the obsolete and draconian law of sedition against a dissent opinion. How can a State Government slap a sedition charge against an activist who is only protesting against the government’s policy? Protest against a government’s policy does not amount to the act of “sedition” in any law in this country. Law Commission of India in its consultation paper on “sedition” also said that “expression of frustration over the state of affairs cannot be treated as sedition”.

Time and again, the law of sedition is being misused against those who criticise the government and its agents. The draconian law of sedition is being used to imprison, prevent bail from being granted, and for suppressing the freedom of speech and expression.

The founders of independent India wanted a country which is free and fair to its people, even those who have a different opinion from the one who is tasked to govern the country. However, in the last couple of years, the Government has invoked time and again the tyrannical law of sedition against dissent. The Supreme Court of India while highlighting the importance of ‘dissent’ in democracies, observed that ‘Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst’.

By introducing the law that effectively grants citizenship on religious lines, the Government has polarised the society and now it’s going further ahead by cracking down on the activists who are dissenting about the opinion on the government’s policy.


The Leaflet