Saturday 20 January 2018

Lawyers attack protesters at student leader's sedition trial

A lawyer (centre) who spoke to the media supporting student leader Kanhaiya Kumar is beaten up by other lawyers outside a Delhi court (AP)
A lawyer (centre) who spoke to the media supporting student leader Kanhaiya Kumar is beaten up by other lawyers outside a Delhi court (AP)

Dozens of lawyers - many with links to India's ruling nationalist party - have attacked protesters demanding the release of a student leader arrested under India's colonial-era sedition laws.

The clashes began shortly before a court hearing for Kanhaiya Kumar, president of the students' union at the country's premier Jawaharlal Nehru University. Mr Kumar has been in prison since Friday.

Mr Kumar was escorted onto court premises on foot by a few policemen amid reports he was punched and kicked as he was taken inside the courtroom.

About a dozen lawyers threw rocks at reporters and protesters, and one of them grabbed the camera strap of an Associated Press photographer, bruising his hand and breaking his lens.

The attacks and Mr Kumar's arrest highlighted allegations of increasing intolerance in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.

Mr Kumar, a left-leaning campus leader, is accused of sedition for participating in events where slogans against India allegedly were shouted along with criticism of the 2013 secret hanging of a Kashmiri separatist convicted of an attack on Parliament.

His arrest took place after a student faction linked to the BJP filed a police complaint.

The lawyers waved Indian flags and chanted slogans like "glory to Mother India" and "traitors leave India".

Many of the lawyers seen on TV footage had been involved in similar violence on Monday when reporters and Mr Kumar's supporters were beaten outside the court premises.

The violence occurred despite the Supreme Court ordering the police to ensure security ahead of the hearing.

Delhi police officials said officers are trying to identify those involved in the violence but have made no arrests despite several newspapers naming the lawyers and publishing their photographs prominently.

India's sedition laws were drafted by its British colonial rulers to suppress the country's freedom struggle and in recent years the country's Supreme Court has said those laws should be invoked only when there is actual evidence of incitement to violence.

Press Association

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