Kanpur: Three days after the police arrested a 28-year-old Uttar Pradesh (UP) lawyer on charges of sedition—after he called the chief minister a “communal terrorist” in a tweet—a local court granted bail and said no sedition was involved.
“The country’s biggest communal terrorist is today calling former representatives terrorists. As you think, so you act,” said a tweet on 15 March 2020 from Abdul Hannan, a lawyer who offered free legal services to those who received property-recovery notices after anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code defines someone as guilty of sedition—a 150-year-old law promulgated by a colonial government—if they “by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law”.
“The tweet doesn’t make any statement against any government in India,” said the court order, granting bail to Hannan on 18 March 2020. “In this situation, at this stage, it appears that the accused made no attempt to spread hatred or malice against the government. It appears that the accused’s action does not come under section 124A of the IPC.”
During elections to the Delhi Assembly in February 2020, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—which administers UP—including union minister Prakash Javadekar, called Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal a “terrorist”. No cases were filed against them. In 2019, the police nationwide have filed a spate of sedition cases, perhaps more than 100—there is no accurate count available—despite the fact that convictions are rare and grounds for filing such cases restrictive.
In 1962, the Supreme Court of India (in Kedar Nath Singh Vs State of Bihar) allowed the sedition law to stand with the caveat that it could be used if "a person could be prosecuted for sedition only if his acts caused incitement to violence or intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace".
The complaint against Hannan was registered on 15 March 2020 by station house officer (SHO) Ajay Seth in the Kalyanpur area of Kanpur, about 100 km southwest of Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow. Apart from sedition, he was charged with section 67—publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form—of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
Hannan got bail after his father deposited two personal bonds worth Rs 1,00,000 each.
“As recent events prove, the law against sedition is being abused to crush dissent and free-speech,” Supreme Court lawyer Chitranshul Sinha wrote in February 2020 in an Article-14 analysis.
Nothing In Tweet Against The Chief Minister: Judge “It is clear from the tweet that it doesn’t make any comment against the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh clearly,” said the bail order. “Instead, it replies to a tweet of Shalabh Mani Tripathi.”
Mannan’s tweet was a reply to a tweet issued by Tripathi, the UP’s government’s chief adviser for electronic media. On 13 March 2020 Tripathi, forwarding a video or chief minister Yogi Adityanath, tweeted: “Tum kagaz nahin dikhaoge, tum dange bhi phailaoge, to hum lathi bhi chalwaenge, gharbar bhi bikwaenge, aur haan, poster bhi lagwaenge. If you do not show your papers and spread riots, then we will wield batons, sell your homes, and, yes, we will paste posters too (a reference to controversial posters of alleged rioters).”
Tripathi denied that his government had ordered the police to file sedition charges against Mannan.
“I do not have any knowledge about this particular case,” said Tripathi. “Over the past few days, we have been observing that few people are making obscene comments against the Chief Minister, and, in such cases, police and the administrative agencies work independently.”
Tripathi refused further comment.
A Mystery Complainant, And A History With The Inspector
Inspector Seth, the Kalyanpur SHO, who made the complaint against Mannan, said he acted after he was directed to by a senior police officer on the verified Twitter account of Kanpur police (@kanpurnagarpol. Seth, it emerged, had been previously suspended for mishandling a property dispute, the lawyer for which was Hannan.
Seth denied his connection with Hannan had any bearing on his actions. “The suspension is a very old matter and I have forgotten about it,” said Seth. “The person who tried to frame me falsely through this advocate is behind bars, and I did not know that Mr Abdul Hannan was the advocate in my case. I did what I had to do and the rule of law has been followed in this case.”
Asked if the police tried to find the identity of the person whose tweet prompted the police to act against Hannan, Seth said, “No”. He refused further comment. Despite six calls to his cellphone, Kanpur Senior Superintendent of Police Anand Deo did not answer or return calls.
Hannan’s arrest was based on a tweet from someone called “Limited Edition”, who uses the Twitter handle @limited0190. We contacted the man using the handle—the accompanying image is of a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakha (branch)—but he declined to provide his real name or other details.
“I cannot share my number because many advocates are asking about my number, and this terrorist (Mannan) also got bail yesterday,” “Limited Edition” told us, replying to a Twitter direct message at 7 am on Wednesday.
In his tweet to the UP police, the user had also asked the police not to reveal his name, citing security reasons. Had To Borrow Money For Bail: Hannan’s Father Hannan’s father Abdul Gaffar, 48, a maulana (Islamic teacher), said that he had to borrow money from relatives and friends to make bail for the eldest of his four sons.
“I just want to say that my son has done nothing wrong, and he only wrote something on Twitter,” said Gaffar. “Honestly, I do not know what Twitter is but before arresting him the police should have properly investigated the case.”
Gaffar said his son was called to the local police station and told that the Inspector wanted to speak with him.
“He was arrested after he reached the police station and was sent to the jail after his medical tests were done,” said Gaffar. “We were informed by one of his friends that he had been taken to jail in this Tweet matter.”
Gaffar said that his son has been practicing law for the last six years. “Being a lawyer my son knows what is wrong and right,” said Gaffar, who alleged the police acted because Mannan reacted to Tripathi’s tweet.
Mohammad Nasir Khan, the lawyer who represented Abdul Hannan said that his client was arrested by the police without proper investigation.
“My client only tried to discuss a particular thing on Twitter,” said Khan. “He did not make any allegations against anyone and was immediately arrested by the police. What we got to know from the police station was that this station house officer was pressured from higher up to arrest Mr Hannan, and he acted promptly because my client got him suspended in an older legal matter through court in 2018.”
Kapil Deep Sachan, the general secretary of the Kanpur Bar Association said that the police refused to show them the report of the investigating officer, which is normally the case.
“How can the investigation be done in a couple of hours, and why was the Bar Association not informed before arresting the advocate?” asked Sachan “The SHO says that he was being pressured by his senior officers, but I want to ask if (such) pressure is above the law?”
Sachan said Kanpur lawyers are considering appealing Hannan’s case before a higher court. (Saurabh Sharma is a Lucknow-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com.)
Previously on Article-14.com: