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New Delhi: In jail since September 14, 2020, scholar and activist Umar Khalid was denied bail once again on March 23.
Khalid’s bail order had been deferred thrice, most recently from March 21 to today, March 23. Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat, who was scheduled to pronounce the order on Monday, posted the matter for Wednesday instead, saying the court was not ready.
The court had, on March 3, reserved its order after hearing arguments by the prosecution as well as Khalid’s counsel. Khalid’s bail hearing had stretched for eight months.
On February 17, there was widespread outrage after Khalid was produced before a Karkadooma court in handcuffs, despite a recent court order saying that he should be produced without “using handcuffs or fetters.”
In September 2020, Delhi Police arrested Khalid under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on the charge of conspiring to engineer communal violence in Delhi during the visit to India of US President Donald Trump. Several scholars, activists and lawyers have been arrested in connection with the infamous FIR 59/2020, most of them Muslims. He was also charged with sedition and 18 other sections of the Indian Penal Code, including murder and attempt to murder.
The Delhi police’s investigation into the riots has come under severe criticism from courts, opposition political parties and civil society alike. Police’s ‘conspiracy’ angle has been criticised by several quarters and its loopholes have also been examined by The Wire.
In court, Khalid with the help of his lawyer, senior advocate Trideep Pais, had put up a spirited defence of the freedom of expression and criticised severely the nature of the charges brought against him, drawing examples from contemporary culture and cinema to prove his point.
Addressing the allegation levelled by police against Khalid that he and his father were present at a protest organised by the Welfare Party of India at Jantar Mantar, where children and women “were taken in buses,” Pais famously told the court, “I recently watched a movie called ‘The Trial of Chicago 7‘ where witnesses of the state had already planned to be the witnesses of the state.”
Pais, separately, also took apart the police’s claim that a tea seller was able to give them details of a secret meeting held to conspire for the riots.
“How would a person speak in front of a chaiwala and spill the entire beans of conspiracy? The witness waits from January to June and appears miraculously before the police. Clearly a cooked-up witness,” he had said.
Even earlier, Khalid had said that the anti-CAA protest was secular but the charge sheet in the Delhi riots conspiracy case was communal and that the police fabricated a story to suit their narrative, calling it a “naked form of false implication”.
According to LiveLaw, Pais argued that news channels Republic TV and News 18 ran truncated version of a speech delivered by Khalid at Amravati, Maharashtra on February 17 last year. “Delhi police has nothing but Republic TV and CNN-News18 for the case,” he submitted.
Pais further argued that no useful purpose is being served by keeping Khalid in custody as no prima facie case has been made out against him.
“No physical evidence has been retrieved from the accused or otherwise which connects the accused to any of the violence that ensued in North East Delhi… the accused is neither visible in any CCTV recordings or video footage nor has any public or police witness made any
statement that establishes his presence at the scene of the purported violence which took place between 22.02.2020 and 25.02.2020 or on any other occasion,” Pais submitted, as per the court order.
The lawyer pointed out P. Chidambaram v. CBI 2019 SCC Online SC 1549 that has categorically reemphasised the primary considerations for grant of bail, which are: (1) availability of the accused for investigation, interrogation and facial trial; (2) whether the accused is a flight risk and (3) likelihood of the accused to tamper with evidence and influence/intimidate witnesses.
He, therefore, submitted that in the present case, Khalid “satisfies the aforesaid triple test” and urged the court to grant him bail.
Protesting the court’s order, Amnesty International India’s chair of board, Aakar Patel, said: “The repeated denial of bail to Umar Khalid is a huge blow to everyone exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the country. Umar’s continued detention for over 18 months comes against the backdrop of a rapidly shrinking space for critical voices and sets a chilling precedent for anyone whose views the authorities disagree with.”
“Khalid’s continued detention under UAPA runs absolutely counter to the international human rights law and standards. Amnesty International India calls on the Indian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Khalid and all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained solely for expressing their opposition and peacefully protesting against the CAA.”
This story, which was published on March 24 at 12:31 pm, is being republished on the same date at 8:25 pm, with inputs from the court order.