India’s top court refuses to release 5 rights activists

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s top court on Friday rejected pleas by five rights activists that they be freed a month after being arrested for alleged links to Maoist rebels.

The Supreme Court said in a 2-1 verdict that the activists were not arrested because of their political views, but because there was prima facie evidence of connections between them and the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

The court, however, directed that the activists be held under house arrest for four more weeks to help them seek bail from lower courts while police in Maharashtra state complete their investigation.

The court also rejected the activists’ plea for a court-monitored investigation into the allegations against them.

Leading Indian authors, lawyers and civil society leaders have called the Aug. 28 arrests illegal and an attack on the right to dissent.

The government says Maoist rebels are active in several states and pose India’s biggest internal security threat. The rebels, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting the government for more than four decades, demanding land and jobs for the poor and indigenous communities.

Those arrested were Telugu-language poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Farreira in Mumbai, and Gautam Navalakha and Sudha Bhardwaj in New Delhi and a neighboring town.

Police in Pune said they have evidence suggesting there was a plan by Maoists to target the country’s “highest political functionaries.”

Police also accused the five of delivering speeches that triggered protests and violence between low-caste Dalits and right-wing groups near Pune in December.

In June, police arrested five other activists on suspicion of also inciting the Dalits, who have been marginalized for centuries and forced to perform jobs considered unacceptable by other castes.

Caste prejudice is endemic in Hindu-majority India, even though the constitution outlaws the practice and has made it a crime punishable by up to a year in prison.

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