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India’s top court suspends Rahul Gandhi’s defamation conviction

India’s top court on Friday suspended the defamation conviction of Rahul Gandhi, a decision that could pave the way for the senior opposition politician to return to parliament after his disqualification.

“No reason has been given by (the) trial judge for imposing the maximum sentence,” Justice B.R. Gavai said in his ruling. “The order of conviction needs to be stayed pending final adjudication.”

Gandhi was sentenced to two years’ jail for comments he made in 2019 that a court ruled were insulting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and those sharing his last name.

Anyone sentenced to a custodial term of two years or more is ineligible to sit in India’s parliament, and the initial verdict forced Gandhi’s expulsion from the body in March.

Read more: Rahul Gandhi appeals to India’s top court over conviction

His conviction stemmed from a remark made during the 2019 election campaign when he asked why “all thieves have Modi as (their) common surname”, in a jibe at the prime minister.

In his 731-page submission to the Supreme Court, Gandhi said his speech was made “in the course of democratic political activity”.

His sentence was “gravely detrimental to democratic free speech”, added the document, which his party provided to AFP.

Modi’s government has been widely accused of using the defamation law to silence critics.

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