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Arrest of activists: So-called incriminating letters not legally tenable?

Mumbai: Even as the Pune police is claiming to have seized  ‘thousands’ of letters from the houses of the arrested human rights activists, which allegedly establish their links with Maoists, the legal admissibility of such documents is in question. At a press conference recently, Maharashtra police had displayed several such letters and emails, purportedly written by the activists, to suggest that they had conspired with Maoists to overthrow the government. One such ‘incriminating’ letter was signed ‘Comrade Sudha – allegedly Sudha Bharadwaj — and addressed to one Comrade Prakash.

The police have to ensure that these letters are admitted as evidence in a court of law and this seems to be a challenging task. If they fail to do so and there is no corroborative evidence, the bottom can fall out of the case. This is so because there seem to be no signatories to these letters; nor were the letters produced at the press conference hand-written. The only reference to the activists is by initials and half-names – as ‘Comrade so and so’.

According to legal luminaries, such ‘plain’ letters cannot be admissible as evidence, unless there is other incriminating material to support these documents. Says retired Justice Parshuram Sawant of the Supreme Court, “These letters by itself do not comprise strong evidence. They do not qualify to be evidence as the only material against the arrested activists (in these letters) is that their names figure in the content.”

There is no material to show if these letters were actually written by these activists, as anyone can prepare such a letter and plant it in someone’s house,” Justice Sawant added. Justice Sawant further said the onus of proof is on the police to establish that the letters were written by the accused. Even Justice RMS Khandeparkar, a former judge of the Bombay High Court, shares a similar view on this issue. He said such letters with no signatories ‘ideally cannot be admitted as evidence.’

“When there are no signatures or anything of that sort then the letters cannot be taken as evidence. Plain letters cannot be admitted as evidence. The police will have to support its claims with other circumstantial evidence, at least to link the letters to the accused,” Justice Khandeparkar said. Justice Khandeparkar further said that the police will have to ensure it followed the due process of law while seizing such letters, as any lacuna in this procedure can be fatal for the claims made by the police officers and particularly the investigations in the case. “However, when matters are sensitive and pertain to national security, then the concerned court can decide according to law on the admissibility of such letters.”



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