New Delhi/Mumbai: Highlighting the importance of dissent in democracies, the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday ordered that five human rights activists arrested by Pune Police across the country on charges of involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence, be kept under house arrest, staying the force’s attempts to move them to Pune amid growing protests.

“Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst," said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, part of a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

The court also issued notices to the centre and the Maharashtra state government, seeking their replies while observing that those arrested are prominent rights activists, professors and lawyers. The SC ordered the five activists to be kept under house arrest till 6 September.

In a coordinated swoop across the country on Tuesday, Pune Police arrested poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, civil rights activist and author Anand Teltumbde in Goa, national secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad, human rights activists Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves in Mumbai, journalist and former PUCL secretary Gautam Navlakha in Delhi, and tribal rights activist Stan Swamy in Ranchi.

Deputy commissioner of Pune police Shirish Sardeshpande told reporters, “We have seized emails, letters, minutes of the meetings, and copies of resolutions passed thereof which prove that the Elgar Parishad held in Pune on 31 December last year was an attempt to instigate people against the state. We have proof to establish that the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) provided funds to help organize the Elgar Parishad. The proof we have also indicates that plans were prepared to assassinate the top political leadership in the country."

In Mumbai, as many as 37 civil society organizations came to defend the human rights activists, while Left parties have called a protest demonstration in the national capital on Thursday.

The Delhi high court as well as a sessions court in Pune are also hearing the matter. The Delhi high court had on Tuesday stayed the transit remand of Navlakha after he was taken to the Delhi Police’s special cell. The high court also added that it would examine the legality of the Maharashtra police action. Bharadwaj’s transit remand was stayed by the Punjab and Haryana high court while Rao, Ferreira and Gonsalves were produced in a Pune court.

Intellectual and civil rights activist Anand Teltumbde, whose house in Goa was raided on Tuesday, questioned what he called the “nonsense" being bandied about by the police in the name of “urban Naxals". He termed the current repression as “worse than the emergency in 1975 which was at the least Constitutional."

Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan said, “five human rights activists were arrested by Pune police yesterday (Tuesday). Several others, who have been working for the marginalised were also searched. A public interest petition was filed challenging the arrests. Supreme Court heard the matter and has issued notice to the Maharashtra government and the centre."

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