Indian student arrested for sedition released from jail

Kanhaiya Kumar (centre) being escorted by police outside court on Feb 17, 2016.
Kanhaiya Kumar (centre) being escorted by police outside court on Feb 17, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI, India (AFP) - An Indian student leader walked out of prison on Thursday, nearly three weeks after he was arrested on a controversial sedition charge that sparked major protests and a nationwide debate over free speech.

Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on Feb 12 over a rally at Delhi's prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) at which anti-India slogans were chanted.

He had been in judicial custody in the capital's Tihar jail since Feb 17.

"Kanhaiya was released from the jail at around 6.30pm (local time) after his bail bond and release orders were properly scrutinised," Tihar spokesman Mukesh Prasad said, according to the Press Trust of India.

On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court granted Kumar six months' interim bail while the police conduct an investigation into the case, directing him not to participate in "anti-national" activities.

The student union leader denies he was among those chanting the slogans at the rally that was held to mark the 2013 hanging of Kashmiri separatist Mohammed Afzal Guru over a deadly 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.

Two other students, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, are accused of being among the organisers of the JNU event and have been arrested on the same sedition charge as Kumar.

The Delhi High Court's order listed some of the slogans shouted at the Feb 9 event which included "Our war will continue until India is destroyed" and "Death to the Indian army".

"They are enjoying this freedom (of speech) only because our borders are guarded by our armed and paramilitary forces," Judge Pratibha Rani said in her order.

"I consider this as a kind of infection from which such students are suffering which needs to be controlled/cured before it becomes an epidemic."

A Delhi government report published on Thursday said while no witness or video evidence could be found implicating Kumar, the role of Khalid and other students at the rally "must be investigated further".

Kumar's arrest sparked a major row over freedom of expression in India, bringing thousands of students, teachers and activists onto the streets.

Some rights campaigners say the Hindu nationalist government is using the British-era sedition law to clamp down on dissent.

Sedition carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment although convictions are rare.