Maha Sabha loses lawsuit against JP over sedition search warrant

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Ackbar Khan –

CENTRAL Broadcasting Services Ltd (CBSL) – the media arm of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha – has lost its challenge against a justice of the peace who issued a search warrant executed by police in April 2019.

The station sought to have the High Court review the decision of JP Ackbar Khan who signed off on one of the search warrants on the basis that it was unlawful and illegal.

After the CBSL’s claim was filed, issues arose concerning a decline in Khan’s health so attorneys for the station questioned his mental capacity. CBSL asked the court to declare the warrants null and void. CBSL’s attorneys argued that from the affidavits of the State, in defence of its claim, there was no evidence on oath to satisfy Khan to issue the warrant,

The SDMS had also filed a separate constitutional claim challenging the Sedition Act after police executed a series of search warrants at CBSL’s offices after statements by then secretary general Satnarayan Maharaj on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on TV Jaagriti on April 15, 2019.

Maharaj claimed that citizens living in Tobago were lazy and labelled the men as rapists.

While no criminal charges were brought against Maharaj or CBSL, he suggested that it was inevitable while addressing supporters at SDMS’s Indian Arrival Day celebrations that year.

In October 2023, the Privy Council dismissed the SDMS’s appeal on the constitutionality of the Sedition Act and in a ruling on March 28, Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell dismissed CBSL’s judicial review claim against JP Khan over one of the warrants.

She pointed to the evidence of acting Sgt Curtis Jones of the Special Investigations Unit who procured the search warrant.

She said Jones went to Khan and presented newspaper clippings of statements made by Maharaj on the radio programme. She said Jones, according to the evidence, believed the recording of the broadcast would assist in determining if an offence contrary to the Sedition Act was committed so he went to the JP for a warrant to search Radio Jaagriti.

“This was objective information available to the defendant which supports the belief that an offence of sedition was committed,” the judge said,

“The court’s finding is that the defendant issued the warrant because he was satisfied, based on the affidavit and other documents given to him by officer Curtis Jones, when he came to swear an oath before him.

“The defendant has proven that reasonable cause existed in the evidence before him to believe the crime of sedition had been committed.”

She also held there was “no evidence of irregularity in the actions of the defendant or proof that he lacked the mental capacity for decision-making at the time of granting the search warrant.”

She also said there was no evidence of a decline in Khan’s mental capacity up to 2019 when the search warrant was issued.

“.. Accordingly, the claimant has not provided sufficient evidence upon which a decision can be made by the court to declare the warrant null and void.”

CBSL was ordered to pay Khan’s legal costs. The media house was represented by Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally,Kiel Taklalsingh and Stefan Ramkissoon. Khan was represented by Fyard Hosein, SC, Vanessa Gopaul and Vincent Jardine.