The Supreme Court of India on Saturday, October 15, suspended a verdict by the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court acquitting activist GN Saibaba and five others. The former Delhi University professor and activist, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court in 2017, had been acquitted on Friday. He had been accused of having ‘Maoist links.’ Following the acquittal, the State of Maharashtra had appealed against the verdict in the Supreme Court.
The Nagpur Bench had acquitted Saibaba and the others based on the prosecution failing to obtain the necessary sanction to pursue the case. However, the Supreme Court, while suspending the acquittal, noted that the High Court had only looked at technical grounds and not the merits of the case
In its verdict on Friday, the Nagpur Bench had cautioned against sacrificing the due process of the law on the basis of a perceived threat to national security. “We are inclined to hold, that every safeguard, however minuscule, legislatively provided to the accused, must be zealously protected,” it added.
Saibaba, a teacher and activist, was first arrested in 2014 and convicted in 2017 under provisions of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Indian Penal Code. The trial court in 2017 had suggested that Saibaba’s actions had amounted to “waging war against the country.”
Since the mid-1990s, Saibaba had been campaigning against what are commonly referred to as ‘encounter killings,’ in which state forces extrajudicially kill people, in this case accusing them of being alleged Maoists [associated with the banned Communist Party of India [Maoist].
Saibaba was convicted after the state alleged that he had in his possession documents that established his involvement with the CPI [Maoist]. Saibaba, who had polio as a child and has used a wheelchair since 2008 as the consequence of a physical disability, has long denied any association with the organization. He is 90% disabled. Saibaba had on several occasions reported facing medical negligence while in prison.