Indian student leader attacked before court hearing

A frightened-looking Kanhaiya Kumar (centre) being escorted by police into the Patiala House Court in New Delhi. He had been arrested for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans at a rally last week to protest against a Kashmiri separatist's execution
A frightened-looking Kanhaiya Kumar (centre) being escorted by police into the Patiala House Court in New Delhi. He had been arrested for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans at a rally last week to protest against a Kashmiri separatist's execution three years ago - a charge he denies.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW DELHI • An Indian student leader arrested on a controversial sedition charge was attacked as the police brought him into court, in a case that has sparked mass protests and exposed deep divisions.

The latest violence came as Delhi police carried out fresh raids in several Indian cities yesterday. They have stepped up a search for other students accused of being involved in a rally last week to protest against the execution of Kashmiri separatist Mohammed Afzal Guru three years ago, over a deadly 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament.

"Many people participated in the rally that day," Delhi police chief B. S. Bassi told reporters. "We have identified the ringleaders and a search is on to find them. I am confident they will be arrested soon."

Police sources said the raids were taking place on premises in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and the region of Jammu and Kashmir, where separatist violence has simmered for decades.

Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested last Friday for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans at the rally last Tuesday in the capital's Jawaharlal Nehru University. He denies the allegations, but his arrest has sparked a major row over freedom of expression in India, where some rights campaigners say the government is using British-era law to clamp down on dissent.

"My son... was arrested because his views questioned the government policy and their agenda," Kumar's mother Meena Devi said.

Hundreds of policemen were deployed at the Patiala House Court in Delhi ahead of Kumar's appearance, after students, academics and journalists were attacked when they turned up to see him on Monday. India's Supreme Court had directed Delhi police to ensure the safety of all in the lower court.

Riot police and water cannon were deployed yesterday as a precaution, as groups supporting and opposing Kumar again converged on the complex. There were chaotic scenes outside the court, with television footage showing lawyers pushing and shoving, and reports of stones being thrown at journalists as a frightened-looking Kumar was dragged inside by the police.

Then, lawyers for Kumar said he had been attacked inside the court. A halt to the proceedings was ordered and a team of lawyers was dispatched to assess the situation.

"A person had come dressed as a lawyer and beaten him up inside the court premises today," said defence lawyer Vrinda Grover.

Opposition politicians condemned the violence. "The Supreme Court has directed that safety must be provided to Kanhaiya. In spite of that directive, when he arrived at Patiala House he was beaten up," said Mr Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

"What is happening in our courts... is something that is completely unacceptable and very, very serious," he told reporters.

Sedition, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, has been used in the past against supporters of independence for the disputed territory of Kashmir.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2016, with the headline 'Indian student leader attacked before court hearing'. Print Edition | Subscribe