Madhya Pradesh HC Sets ‘Counselling’ As Bail Condition for Man Held Over Anti-CAA Post

Anwar had been detained for nearly five months over a WhatsApp status.

New Delhi: The Madhya Pradesh high court recently granted bail to a man who had been arrested for posting a WhatsApp status against the Citizenship Amendment Act by setting the condition that he go for “counselling,” LiveLaw has reported.

The order was given by a bench of Justice Virender Singh on November 26.

The accused, a man identified as Anwar, had posted the following text as his WhatsApp status, “You shot a bullet in Delhi, we made MP and Shajapur Shaheen Bagh (NO CAA NRC).”

The ostensible reference was to the legislation brought by the Central government in Delhi and the protests against it in Shaheen Bagh in the city, which was also replicated across the country, including in Madhya Pradesh.

A ‘status’ update on WhatsApp allows a user to broadcast text, videos and photographs for a period of 24 hours, after which it disappears. Users who have added someone as a contact are able to view their status updates.

While it is not known who lodged the initial complaint against Anwar, Madhya Pradesh police arrested him on July 2, 2020. A case was registered against him under sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the Indian Penal Code. He had been in detention since then.

The arrest and the detention notably took place during the pandemic, at the onset of which the Supreme Court had directed that jails be decongested and prisoners be released on parole to minimise the risk of inmates contracting COVID-19 in enclosed jail spaces.

Police told the court that Anwar’s WhatsApp status was “found to be prejudicial to the maintenance of religious harmony and could have adversely affected public tranquility.”

Granting him bail, the high court not only asked Anwar to submit an undertaking promising not to commit any acts which affects national identity and integrity, but also, to present himself before a designated person for “counselling.”

Anwar was directed by the court to appear before advocate and social worker Rashmi Pandey in the first weeks of February, March and April 2021 “for counselling purpose and [to] follow her instructions.”

The LiveLaw report says, “Significantly, the court in its order also said that if any contrary report is given by Pandey regarding the conduct of the petitioner then the benefit given to the petitioner could be reconsidered.”

It is not clear what the court hopes such a once-in-a-month counselling will achieve. While WhatsApp has been used to propagate communal sentiment and propaganda – often with disastrous consequences – to suppose that a citizen’s opinion on a law and its politics deems him in need of counselling is a sizeable intrusion into the freedom of speech.

Anwar was directed to be released on production of a personal bond of Rs 30,000.

A Delhi court, while granting bail to a Shaheen Bagh protester had imposed a similar condition that he would not make social media posts on the CAA and the National Register of Citizens, the report cited.

The eagerness of law enforcement to establish connections between WhatsApp activity, the anti-CAA protests and the touted spectre of national integrity being harmed has taken on bigger role in the Delhi police’s investigation into the February violence in the city, where activists and students’ presence in WhatsApp groups have been used to attempt to substantiate an ill-proven conspiracy theory.

Source: The Wire


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