The Bombay High Court on Wednesday granted transit anticipatory bail for three weeks to Nikita Jacob, a Mumbai-based lawyer and activist whom the Delhi police want to arrest for editing the toolkit put out by Swedish climate justice advocate Greta Thunberg last month to mobilise support for the ongoing farmer protests in India.
“The applicant is granted protection for three weeks from today,” Justice PD Naik said in his order, adding that in the event of arrest she would furnish a bond of Rs 25,000.
The police claim the toolkit was created by Nikita, 29, and her “associates”, Disha Ravi, 21, and Shantanu Muluk, 31, at the behest of the Poetic Justice Foundation, which they have accused, without publicly offering any evidence, of being a “pro-Khalistan group” based out of Canada.
The police had filed an FIR on February 4 alleging that the toolkit tweeted by Thunberg – which helped draw global attention to the farmer protests just as the Indian state and the mainstream media were seeking to delegitimise it in the wake of the violence during the Republic Day tractor rally – indicated a conspiracy behind the public backlash against the Modi government’s farm laws.
Disha, who is associated with the India chapter of Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement, was arrested from Bengaluru on Saturday and taken to Delhi, where a court remanded her in custody for five days. Shantanu, an activist in Maharashtra’s Beed, got transit anticipatory bail for 10 days from the Bombay High Court’s Aurangabad bench on Tuesday. Shantanu and Nikita had both been issued non-bailable arrest warrants on February 12.
At Nikita’s bail hearing on Tuesday, her lawyers sought a transit bail affording her “limited protection” for four weeks until she appears before the Delhi High Court. “I am seeking limited protection from arrest so that my career doesn’t come to an end,” Nikita argued through her counsel, Mihir Desai.
The Delhi police’s counsel, Hiten Venegaonkar, challenged the Bombay High Court’s jurisdiction in the case on the grounds that the FIR was filed in Delhi.
“Firstly, there’s no provision of a ‘transit’ anticipatory bail under CrPC. Secondly, the honorable court does not have territorial jurisdiction as the cause of action was outside Maharashtra,” he said.
Nikita was questioned at her Mumbai home on February 11, Venegaonkar added, and she “absconded” the next day, compelling the police to issue an arrest warrant for her.
Sanjukta Dey, who had filed the plea for Nikita’s bail, refuted the police’s assertion. “She isn’t absconding,” the lawyer told Newslaundry. “She has cooperated fully with the police who questioned her until night. She gave a statement, a punchnama was made, she even appeared before the Bombay High Court. She is a lawyer herself and knows the procedures. She feared arrest the next day.”
She added the police had seized electronic devices and personal papers of Nikita and her family members after questioning her.
Mihir told Newslaundry it wasn’t until they reached the courtroom on Tuesday that they were given a copy of the FIR by the Delhi police’s counsel. The FIR, which doesn’t name Nikita, invokes the penal provision for sedition. “She is an enthusiastic environmentalist and a practising advocate of this court. The young lawyer now apprehends arrest for sedition,” he told the court.
As to why Nikita left home despite the police making clear that they would return to question her the next day, Mihir said the activist feared she would be arrested without a warrant, like Disha.
Rejecting the police’s allegation that the toolkit was evidence of a conspiracy to unleash violence on Republic Day, Mihir said, “There is not a word of violence in the toolkit, or of taking over the Red Fort. It was a document prepared by many to make people aware of the farmer protests. No one even knew about the said toolkit before Thunberg tweeted it.”
In her plea, Nikita complained about a “media trial” being run against her. “I am not here to make direct allegations on the media, there have been trolls all around,” Dey said. “But the one thing I would say is, what has been put forth has been manipulated entirely. That is my only contention.”