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Right To Protest Can’t Be Anytime, Everywhere: Supreme Court

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New Delhi: The right to protest and express dissent comes with certain duties and cannot be held “anytime and everywhere”, the Supreme Court said in an order, dismissing a review petition on the anti-citizen law protests held in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh in 2019. Twelve activists had filed a review petition against last year’s ruling of the Supreme Court terming the anti-citizenship law protests held at Shaheen Bagh as illegal.

“The right to protest cannot be anytime and everywhere. There may be some spontaneous protests but in case of prolonged dissent or protest, there cannot be continued occupation of public place affecting rights of others,” the three-judge bench of Justices SK Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari said while dismissing a plea by one Shaheen Bagh resident Kaniz Fatima and others seeking review of last year”s verdict of October 7. Though the review petition was decided on February 9, the order came late last night. The three-judge bench reiterated that public places cannot be occupied for protests and that public protests must be “in designated areas alone”. “Dissent and democracy go hand in hand,” the top court had observed in its October 2020 verdict, stressing that “protests like these are not acceptable”.

Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh had emerged as the epicentre of anti-CAA protests in 2019 where the protesters- mostly women and children – sat for more than three months. The Shaheen Bagh protests had received worldwide attention and Time Magazine honoured the face of the movement 82-year-old Bilkis dadi, as one of the 100 “most influential people of 2020”.

Critics have said the contentious citizenship law – which the government says enables citizenship for non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they escaped religious persecution and entered India before 2015 – is “anti-Muslim”. A massive wave of protests had swept the nation against the CAA before the novel coronavirus pandemic forced a majority of the population indoors and the government announced one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in March last year.

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