An Indian court has granted bail to a 22-year-old environmental activist accused of sedition in a case that critics say highlights India’s increasing use of a colonial era law to stifle dissent.Disha Ravi, a Bengaluru resident, was arrested earlier this month by New Delhi police in connection with her role in creating and sharing an online document to raise support for tens of thousands of farmers protesting India’s agricultural reforms.Police had linked the document to violence that gripped the city January 26 when a group of farmers stormed a historic building, the Red Fort. They said that Ravi had collaborated to spread “disaffection against the Indian state” and had shared the document with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who briefly retweeted it.Supporters Protest Detention of 22-Year-Old Indian Climate Activist Disha Ravi was arrested related to a ‘toolkit’ with information about supporting farmers in India who are protesting controversial agriculture lawsRavi is a member of a climate change movement founded by Thunberg.Calling the evidence against Ravi “scanty and sketchy,” Judge Dharmender Rana said there was no reason to keep a 22-year-old with no criminal antecedents in jail.Ravi’s lawyer said that she had only sought support for issues raised by farmers and that having a difference of opinion does not amount to sedition.In the bail order that was praised by several leading lawyers, the judge said that citizens cannot be arrested for disagreeing with the state. “Citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic nation. They cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with the state policies.”The protest has emerged as a huge challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with farm leaders refusing to call it off unless the recent agricultural laws are scrapped.The government says the laws at issue will reform Indian agriculture, draw in private investment and improve incomes, but farmers fear they will eventually eliminate state support for crops and dent their livelihoods.The arrest of the young activist, who has been involved in campaigns to clean lakes, plant trees and educate young people about the impact of climate change, was denounced by opposition politicians, student groups and several senior lawyers. They say her detention under the tough law that can result in life imprisonment is meant to deter those supporting anti-government demonstrations.“The sedition law is being misused to bully vulnerable and young people and frighten them from the exercise of fundamental rights and the right to free speech,” Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonsalves told VOA.“Sedition law requires the seeking of overthrow of the state by use of force, it requires the commission of an actual act of violence and in none of the recent cases, there is an actual act of violence. It can be just language criticizing the government that is being curbed through a very powerful and serious section of law,” according to Gonsalves, who last week challenged the validity of the law in the Supreme Court on the ground that it is unconstitutional.In recent years, the number of cases filed under the law have been rising — they rose by 160% from 2016 to 2019. During the same period, the conviction rate dropped from 33 percent to 3 percent, according to official figures.In the wake of the violence last month, police filed sedition charges against six journalists and a senior opposition leader in connection with their reporting and online posts about the death of one protester. The Editors Guild of India had called it an attempt to “intimidate, harass and stifle free media.”Thunberg recently tweeted support for Ravi. “Freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest and assembly are non-negotiable human rights. These must be a fundamental part of any democracy,” she said on Friday.The Indian chapter of Fridays for Future, the international climate movement, has called Ravi “one of the finest among us all” and a law-abiding activist.“Disha has been an integral part of this movement. Not only has she been voicing out environmental concerns in India but strived for the equality and representation of the country’s most affected and marginalized groups in the global climate movement’s narrative,” the group tweeted Friday. 
 

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