Indian judge sees no reason to detain climate activist charged with sedition

Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old climate activist, leaves after an investigation at National Cyber Forensic Lab, in New Delhi
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Suchitra Mohanty and Zeba Siddiqui
·3 min read
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By Suchitra Mohanty and Zeba Siddiqui

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A New Delhi court on Tuesday granted bail to 22-year-old climate activist, saying there was "scanty and sketchy evidence" of sedition in her efforts to help farmers protest in a case that has drawn global attention.

Disha Ravi was arrested in the southern city of Bengaluru on Feb. 13 and charged with sedition for her alleged role in the creation of an online toolkit that police said contained action plans used to foment violence during the farmers' protest.

Tens of thousands have been camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi in bitter cold since December to protest new agricultural laws they say will hurt them to the benefit of large corporations. The government says the reforms will bring new investment in the vast and antiquated produce markets.

Judge Dharmender Rana said there was little to hold Ravi, a founder of the local chapter of Swedish climate crusader Greta Thunberg's movement, in custody any longer and criticised the authorities for detaining anyone who differed with government policy.

"Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence available on record, I do not find any palpable reasons 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," Rana said in a written order.

Her arrest stoked criticism of repression of dissent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government which has been trying for months to end the farmers protest.

Ravi's lawyers had said there was nothing in the toolkit to attract the charge of sedition, which carries a life term.

"Perusal of the said 'Toolkit' reveals that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent," the judge said in a written order.

The protests present one of the biggest challenges to Modi's rule. Several rounds of talks between the farmers and his government have failed, and Modi has faced criticism for using heavy-handed tactics to curb the movement.

Police had alleged that the toolkit was authored by Ravi and two others, and had the backing of supporters of a Canadian-based group called the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF). They also said Ravi had shared the toolkit with Thunberg, who is one of several international celebrities who have lent public support to the farmers' cause.

The judge said he did not find Ravi's link to the toolkit or PFJ objectionable.

PJF founder Mo Dhaliwal told Reuters: "We didn’t assemble the toolkit in question, although links to our materials were included in that document."

Dhaliwal also countered the police's claim that the PFJ was a separatist outfit.

"We have only created space for open debate and dialogue," he said, alleging it was being targeted because Modi's government was "fostering a culture of fear where dissent is equated with sedition".

(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty and Zeba Siddiqui in NEW DELHI; Additional reporting by Danish Siddiqui; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Andrew Cawthorne and Nick Macfie)