Four students booked in sedition cases struggle to get lawyers

Johnson T A
Four students booked in sedition cases struggle to get lawyers

President of the All India MIM Asaduddin Owaisi attempts to stop an unidentified woman who allegedly raised pro-Pakistan slogans during a protest against CAA, NRC and NPR in Bengaluru, Thursday, Feb.20, 2020. (PTI)

Despite the Karnataka High Court observing last week that it is unethical and illegal for lawyers to pass resolutions against representing anyone in court, a 19-year-old girl and three engineering students from Kashmir, who are accused in separate sedition cases, are facing an uphill task in getting legal representation.

Amulya Leona Noronha, a college student, was booked for sedition after she started a speech with “Pakistan Zindabad” at an anti-CAA protest in Bengaluru. On Wednesday, police had to produce her at the home of a magistrate for a custody remand after local advocate groups ensured that she did not find representation in court.

According to police sources, they were also apprehensive that the girl may be attacked if she was taken to court.

With no representation, Amulya’s bail plea was not taken up by the magistrate on Monday and a request for police custody also remained in limbo.

A few women advocates who wanted to represent her were forced to leave the court on Monday after the other lawyers objected to the “anti-national” being represented in court. “We were asked to leave,” an advocate said.

A senior lawyer opposed to Amulya being represented said, “If such people are represented, then more people will start saying such things.”

Basit Aashiq Sofi from Baramulla in Kashmir, and Talib Majeed and Amir Mohiuddin Wani from Anantnag are facing a similar problem. The three, who are students of a Hubballi college, were arrested on Feb 15 on charges of sedition over a video in which they were purportedly seen singing along to a song with the words “Pakistan Zindabad”.

Subsequently, the Hubballi Bar Association passed a resolution that no lawyers will represent the youths in court on account of their “anti-national” act. On Feb 17, when they were produced in court, the three were attacked by a mob. Despite a group of 24 human rights lawyers obtaining a directive from the high court on

Feb 20 that stated that the Bar Association’s resolution is illegal, an attempt to file a plea for the bail of the Kashmiri students was thwarted by the lawyers opposed to them being represented.

On Wednesday, when the issue was brought up before a division bench of the high court, it observed that it was “sheer militancy” to disallow representation for the accused. The court has now summoned representatives of the the Bar Association.

On Feb 20, the division bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Sreeniva Oka and Justice Hemant Chandangoudar quoted a Supreme Court order in the A S Mohammed Rafi vs State of Tamil Nadu case and said resolutions opposing representation as “passed by the Bar Associations are wholly illegal and against all traditions of the Bar and against professional ethics”.

“Moreover, such resolutions tend to take away the constitutional right of the accused to be defended by an advocate of his choice. In view of the resolution passed by the fourth respondent, it may not be possible even for the Legal Aid lawyers who are members of the fourth respondent to defend the accused,” the division bench observed. “In the petition, it is pointed out that on 17th February, 2020, when the accused were produced before the Court of the learned JMFC I Class at Hubballi, they could not be represented by any advocate and the accused, who are students, were assaulted in the Court premises itself,” the court observed.