India JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar granted bail

A file picture taken on February 17, 2016 shows Indian student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar (C) being escorted by police into Patiala Court for a hearing in New Delhi on February 17, 2016. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Indian student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar (centre) sparked nationwide protests

A student leader charged with sedition in India has been granted bail.

Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested last month after a rally against the execution of a Kashmiri separatist convicted over the 2001 India parliament attack.

The authorities allege protesters shouted anti-India slogans. Two other students remain in custody.

The arrests have sparked massive protests across India, with many accusing the government of cracking down on dissent and free speech.

The government defended the arrests, saying the students supported the Kashmiri separatist movement and the break-up of India.

Why was Kanhaiya Kumar arrested?

What nationalism means to Indian 'sedition' students

Mr Kumar, the president of the students' union at Delhi's prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), was ordered to be released from Tihar jail on a bail period of six months.

The Delhi high court set bail at 10,000 rupees (£105; $148).

Mr Kumar's mother Meena Kumari described it as a "victory".

"My son is innocent. He was framed in this case. But we have full faith in India's constitution and the bail is his first victory," she told BBC Hindi.

Mr Kumar's father, Jaishankar Singh, said his son was charged with sedition because his "opponents had conspired against him".

"I will advise him to continue to be a good human being and remain committed to his principles," he added.

Two other students, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, also accused of sedition for helping organise the protest at JNU, were arrested last week.

Critics have condemned the charges against the students as an assault on freedom of expression, but government ministers have refused to back down, vowing to punish what they describe as "anti-national elements".

Image copyright Reuters

The 9 February rally that prompted the arrests was to mark the third anniversary of the 2013 hanging of Mohammed Afzal Guru.

Guru was one of those convicted of plotting the 2001 parliament attack - charges he always denied. The attack was blamed on Pakistan-based militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir and left 14 people dead.

Indian opposition parties see the affair as an attempt by the BJP to push its Hindu nationalist agenda, correspondents say.

There have also been counter protests by those who say JNU is a hotbed of "traitors" and should be "cleaned up".

Sedition law in India

India's sedition law dates back to 1870, introduced by the British to hit back at anti-colonial movements.

Some of the country's leading independence leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, were tried under the infamous law.

The sedition law has rarely been upheld by India's courts. But anyone charged under the law cannot apply for bail immediately and so can be instantly imprisoned.

"The question of how much criticism a government can tolerate is indicative of the self-confidence of a democracy," writes Lawrence Liang in an article for The Wire.

"On that count, India presents a mixed picture where, on the one hand, we regularly see the use of sedition laws to curtail political criticism even as we find legal precedents that provide a wide ambit to political expression."

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