The Delhi High Court [official website] granted bail [decision, PDF] Wednesday to student political leader Kanhaiya Kumar who was arrested with other students on February 9 when he rallied against the execution of Kashmiri separatist Mohammed Afzal Guru. The arrests sparked massive protests across India, with many accusing the government of violating free speech and peaceful dissent, but the government justified the arrests on the ground that the students supported the Kashmiri separatist movement and the break-up of India. Critics and rights groups have condemned the arrests as an assault on freedom of expression, but government officials have refused to back down, vowing to punish what they view as “anti-national elements.” Home Minister Rajnath Singh [official website] even went as far as putting 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 1870 colonial-era sedition law and has fueled fears that PM 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. Kumar’s attempts at obtaining bail had proved difficult as it was marked by violence [JURIST report] initiated by right-wing nationalist lawyers who physically assaulted Kumar while he was on his way to court. Lawyers heading into the courthouse and journalists covering the case were also heckled. Kumar’s lawyer even attempted to move the bail hearing to the Supreme Court [official website], which rejected it [JURIST report], stating that Kumar must first approach the Delhi High Court. The bail has been set at INR 10,000 (USD $148).
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 Prime Minister Narendra Modi [official website]. In May JURIST guest columnist Roy Gutterman noted [JURIST op-ed] that many countries throughout the world not only still have, but also actively enforce sedition laws. India’s own sedition laws, although rarely upheld, results in instant imprisonment should anyone violate such laws because of the inability to apply for bail immediately