Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi appeals libel conviction, gets bail
New Delhi, Apr 3 (EFE).- The scion of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty and leader of the opposition party Indian National Congress (INC), Rahul Gandhi, filed an appeal before an Indian court on Monday against his two-year prison sentence on charges of defamation linked to a statement against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The district court in Surat, in the western state of Gujarat, from where Modi belongs, granted bail to Gandhi in connection to the two-year conviction handed a week ago, and scheduled a hearing for Apr.13.
Gandhi personally appeared in court accompanied by several INC leaders, and surrounded by hundreds of supporters, who waited outside the judicial premises.
“In this struggle, truth is my weapon, and truth is my refuge!” tweeted Gandhi after his court appearance.
Along with the appeal, he also filed two applications: one seeking the suspension of the two-year sentence and that he be “released on bail” pending the final disposal of the criminal appeal, and another seeking a stay on the conviction “during the pendency of the appeal.”
Following his conviction on Mar.23 in a case filed by a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Gandhi lost his seat in the Parliament under a law that disqualifies any member of parliament convicted for two years or more.
If the Nehru-Gandhi scion’s conviction is not overturned, he will stand disqualified from contesting elections for the next eight years.
Gandhi’s presence on the court was criticized by senior BJP members, including Justice Minister Kiren Rijiju, and its national spokesperson Sambit Patra, who accused him and his partymen of trying to pressurize the justice system.
Meanwhile, the INC denounced the arrest of several of its supporters as they headed to Surat to support Gandhi, and shared on Twitter several photographs of more than a dozen people allegedly inside a police station.
Gandhi was convicted of defamation over a speech during a campaign meeting, in which he asked why “all thieves have Modi as their surname,” referring to two fugitives from justice wanted for fraud and corruption, although not related to the prime minister.
Gandhi got bail after the court suspended the sentence for a month, giving him time to appeal the verdict, however his consequent disqualification as a member of the parliament threatened his role in next year’s general elections.
Responding to his sentence, Gandhi alleged that the disqualification was linked to his criticism of Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, a figure close to the prime minister who has been facing fraud allegations.
The Congress staged a protest against the sentence along with other opposition parties, alleging that Modi has been trying to divert attention from the Adani scandal and other controversies surrounding the government.
The unusually high sentence for a libel case has also attracted criticism overseas, with the governments of the United States and Germany announcing last week that they were closely following the case against Gandhi.
However, in this context Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar lashed out at “the West” on Sunday for meddling in India’s internal affairs. EFE