New Delhi: The Bombay high court of Friday acquitted former Delhi University professor GN Saibaba in an alleged Maoist links case.

The Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court also ordered his immediate release from jail.

Saibaba along with co-accused Mahesh Tikri, Hem Mishra, Prashant Rahi, and Vijay Tikri were acquitted.

The sixth accused in the case, Pandu Narote died as a result of jail authority’s negligence.

Wheelchair-bound Saibaba is currently lodged at the Nagpur central jail.  

A division bench of Justice Rohit Deo and Anil Pansare allowed the appeal filed by Saibaba challenging a 2017 order of the trial court convicting him and sentencing him to life imprisonment.

The bench also allowed the appeals of five other convicts in the case and acquitted them.

“While the war against terror must be waged by the State with unwavering resolve, and every legitimate weapon in the armory must be deployed in the fight against terror, a civil democratic society can ill afford sacrificing the procedural safeguards legislatively provided, and which is an integral facet of the due process of law, at the altar of perceived peril to national security,” the judgment said.

“We unhesitatingly hold that the sanctioning authority paid lip service to the legislative mandate and the report of the appointed authority was sought, and unfortunately given as a ritualistic formality. The transgression of the legislative imperative renders the sanction order bad in law and hence invalid,” the court said in its judgment.

“We are inclined to hold that every safeguard, however miniscule, legislatively provided to the accused, must be zealously protected,” the court said.

The bench directed for the convicts to be released immediately from jail unless they are accused in any other case.

Saibaba was first arrested in 2014. While he was granted bail after his initial arrest in 2014, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017 for connections with Communist Party of India (Maoist) and its frontal organisation, the banned Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF).

In March 2017, a sessions court in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district had convicted Saibaba and others, including a journalist and a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student for alleged Maoist links and for indulging in activities amounting to waging war against the country.

The court had held Saibaba and the others guilty under various provisions of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).  

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