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India top court refuses to hear bail plea in student sedition case

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of India [official website] on Friday refused to intervene in the arrest of left-wing student leader, Kanhaiya Kumar, for sedition. Kumar's arrest triggered demonstrations in universities across the country against Prime Minister Narendra Modi [official website] and his party. Kumar had sought the Supreme Court's intervention [Reuters report] after a previous hearing in a lower court was disrupted by lawyers chanting nationalist slogans who barged into the compound and began stoning reporters. Kumar was also physically assaulted [JURIST report] by right-wing lawyers on his way to the court. One of Kumar's lawyers stated that "It was a life-threatening situation," adding that it was not safe for the defense team to go anywhere except the Supreme Court to seek bail. Critics stated that the government was trying to crush opposition after it ordered police to detain Kumar for commemorating the anniversary of the execution of a Kashmiri separatist, Afzal Guru, who was convicted and hanged for an attack on the India Parliament in 2001. The government reminded citizens that the right to speech was not without limits while Home Minister Rajnath Singh [official website] put out a Twitter post warning that those who shouted "anti-India" slogans and challenge the integrity of the country will not be spared. The case against Kumar is under the colonial-era sedition law and has fueled fears that Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party [party website] is creating a climate of fear in the country and is promoting a fiercely nationalist agenda aimed at the minority groups. The Supreme Court suggested Kumar should first approach the lower Delhi High Court for bail, stating it did not have to intervene in the case and that the lower courts were well qualified to handle the situation. Human rights and political groups in Jammu and Kashmir said that Guru did not get a fair trial, stating that the evidence against him was, at best, circumstantial.

India is one among many countries that have struggled to balance citizens' internationally recognized rights to free speech with domestic and international security concerns. Last August India, after widespread international criticism, ordered Internet service providers [JURIST report] to allow access to the 857 previously banned pornography and humor websites provided they did not include child pornography. Earlier last year India's Supreme Court struck down [judgment, PDF] a law that gave authorities the power to jail people for offensive online posts. That ruling was welcomed and commended [JURIST report] by Modi. In May JURIST guest columnist Roy S. Gutterman noted [JURIST op-ed] that many countries throughout the world not only still have, but also actively enforce sedition laws.

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