The Kerala High Court granted bail to 31 Popular Front of India (PFI) workers who were detained in May for allegedly chanting offensive chants and damaging communal peace at a demonstration in Alappuzha district.
While the allegations against the accused were serious, Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas stated that they had all been in custody for more than 30 days, the investigation was complete in their case, and their continuing detention would serve no purpose, even while two co-accused remained at large.
“The allegations against the petitioners are serious in nature. A minor boy is also alleged to have been used for shouting the provocative slogans. Notwithstanding the serious nature of the allegations, petitioners have been in detention from 24.05.2022 onwards, while the last arrest was made on 04.06.2022. Thus all the petitioners are continuing in detention atleast for more than 30 days. The investigation as far as petitioners are concerned are almost complete. The continued detention of the petitioners will not serve any further purpose, despite two accused remaining at large,” the Court said in its order.
Advocates K.S Madhusoodanan, Sunny Mathew, and Renjith B Marar spoke on behalf of the petitioners, arguing that all of the petitioners were innocent of the crime and had been arrested on different days between May 24 and June 4. It was contended that their extended detention was unjustified.
It was also said that the phrases are being misunderstood for ulterior motives and that no offence is being committed.
However, Public Prosecutor Advocate K.A Noushad disputed the plea, claiming that the accused intended to undermine the state’s harmony. He went on to say that allowing such slogans to be shouted at rallies could have serious consequences.
The problem is related to the now-infamous ‘Jana Maha Sammelanam’ event held by the PFI on May 21, 2022 in Alappuzha district. A video showing a minor boy in the rally raising aggressive slogans threatening the annihilation of specific religious groups while perched on the shoulders of an adult man went popular on social media.
Following that, the police filed a first information report (FIR) charging 33 people, 31 of whom were arrested for committing the crimes.
All of these petitioners were accused of forming an illegal assembly and rioting during the PFI rally by raising provocative slogans, inciting feelings of disharmony, enmity, and hatred between different religions, causing prejudice to the maintenance of religious harmony, and thus committing the alleged offences.
The claims were deemed serious by the Court.
The Court decided that holding the petitioners in custody any longer would serve no purpose for the investigation and granted them bail.
The Court stated that the petitioners shall be released on bail upon the execution of a bond for 50,000 with two solvent sureties each for the same sum to the satisfaction of the court having jurisdiction, petitioners shall appear before the Investigating Officer every alternate Saturday between 9.00 a.m. and 11.00 a.m., petitioners shall not intimidate or attempt to influence the witnesses; nor shall they tamper with the evidence, and petitioners shall not commit any other similar offence.
A Single Judge observed that rally organisers were equally responsible if any controversial remarks/slogans were made during the rally disrupting the peace of the society while dealing with a plea seeking prohibition of public conferences, marches, mass drills, and motorcycle rallies in the PFI rally in the Alappuzha district.
While remarking on the occurrence, another bench of the Court expressed its concern over minors being used in political and religious rallies and forced to raise offensive slogans.
Justice PV Kunhikrishnan said that even the organisers of such protests should be prosecuted, however he did not issue any orders in this regard.
“If a member of a rally raises provocative slogans, the persons who organize the rally is also responsible. If a rally is conducted, it is the duty of the leaders to control the members of the rally.”
The FIR contains sections 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on religious grounds), 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class), 505 (1)(b) (act against public tranquility), 505(2) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC, and 120(o) of the KP Act.
Case Title: Ansar & Ors. v State of Kerala