An Indian court has granted bail to two activists arrested in May 2020 for an anti-government protest.
Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita joined the sit-in last year against a controversial citizenship law a day before deadly riots broke out in Delhi.
They were among several protest activists who have since been charged under strict anti-terrorism law.
The formation of the two judges criticized the government on Tuesday for confusing protest with terrorist activity.
In a firm order, the Delhi High Court declared: “We are compelled to express, it seems, that in its concern to suppress dissent, in the mind of the State, the border between the right constitutionally guaranteed to protest and terrorist activity appears to be becoming somewhat unclear. If this mindset gains ground, it would be a sad day for democracy. “
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been accused of using the pandemic to quell dissent. A colonial-era sedition law and an anti-terrorism law that makes it nearly impossible to obtain bail for the accused (UAPA) have been widely used to jail activists, journalists and protesters.
On Tuesday, the court also granted bail to Asif Iqbl Tanha, a student activist who was arrested in May last year for participating in protests days before the riots.
Ms Narwal was released on bail in May for three weeks to perform her father’s last rites. Mahavir Narwal, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has died of complications after contracting Covid-19.
Ms Narwal and Ms Kalita, both in their early 30s, are founding members of Pinjra Tod (Break the Cage), a grassroots student movement that empowers women to reclaim public spaces.
The movement was first formed to challenge unreasonable curfew schedules imposed by authorities at Delhi University women’s hostels – men were allowed to stay outside until midnight, but female students had to return at their accommodation in the evening.
Soon this movement gained traction and spread to other universities across India as students spoke out for the rights of minorities, Dalits, wage earners and farmers.
Ms Narwal and Ms Kalita were among many students and activists who took part in peaceful protests against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Critics say he discriminates against Muslims, a charge the government denies.
But the law sparked massive protests across India. And one of those protests in northeast Delhi – the sit-in that Ms Narwal and Ms Kalita attended – sparked a political rally in favor of the law the next day.
Later in the day, minor clashes were reported between Hindus and Muslims. But the situation escalated and quickly turned into deadly riots that left 53 dead, mostly Muslims.