New Delhi: The Delhi Police’s Special Cell on Friday ‘arrested’ Pinjra Tod activist and Jawaharlal Nehru University student Natasha Narwal who was already in custody and booked her under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The FIR under which she has been charged — 59/2020 — is the same one that has been used by the Delhi Police Special Cell against Jamia Millia Islamia students Safoora Zargar, Asif Tanha, Sharjeel Imam and other anti-CAA campaigners, all of whom are facing charges under sections 13, 16, 17 and 18 of the UAPA.
Narwal was first arrested last Saturday along with another activist, Devangana Kalita, for taking part in a peaceful protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act outside Jafrabad metro station on Februrary 22, 2020. An FIR had been registered on February 24 noting that the protestors had continued shouting slogans against the CAA despite being asked to disperse. Though the FIR (48/2020), which was filed by a policeman, made no mention of her or anybody else resorting to any form of violence, the two women were charged with Indian Penal Code sections that included physically attacking a police officer.
Granted bail by a sessions judge on May 24, she was promptly rearrested by the Delhi Police crime branch cell on the more serious charge of murder and attempt to murder. The FIR (50/2020) pertains to events near the metro station on February 25 and does not name Narwal, Kalita or anyone else other than the men injured in police action that day when a fight broke out between supporters and opponents of the CAA.
After two days of police custody, the Pinjra Tod activists were remanded to judicial custody till June 11.
On Friday night, the Special Cell of the Delhi Police informed the court that they were now arresting Narwal under UAPA, alleging that she had a role in the “conspiracy” behind the communal violence which hit northeast Delhi at the end of February.
The UAPA is the law the police in India uses to book terrorist offences and it is not clear how it believes the sections of the Act mentioned in FIR 59/2020 apply to Narwal or any of the other anti-CAA activists.
They have been charged with section 13, which pertains to ‘unlawful activities’. But UAPA itself confines the definition of unlawful activities to (i) advocation secession of a part of India, (ii) questioning or disrupting India’s territorial integrity or (iii) causing “disaffection against India”. They have also been charged with committing terrorist acts, raising funds for terrorism and conspiring to commit acts of terrorism.
Grant of bail under UAPA is extremely difficult with the law requiring that the prosecution agree to an accused person getting bail and the judge accepting this recommendation only if he is convinced, prima facie, that the accused is innocent.
Pinjra Tod is a collective of women students and alumni of colleges from across Delhi, who have campaigned against punitive hostel norms for women. Narwal and Kalita are currently lodged in Mandoli jail here.
“We had enough evidence against Natasha Narwal in connection with a conspiracy case associated with the northeast Delhi riots that is being investigated by the special cell. So, we have formally arrested her with the permission from the court,” a senior police officer who did not wish to be identified, told PTI.
At their bail hearing on May 24, duty magistrate Ajeet Narayan had said that that the section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the IPC which was invoked against them was “not maintainable”, and that they were “merely protesting against NRC and CAA”.
“…[T]he accused have strong roots in society and are well-educated. Accused are ready to cooperate with the police regarding the investigation,” the order, as quoted by Indian Express, stated.
That was when the crime branch arrested the young women under charges of murder, attempt to murder, rioting and criminal conspiracy. Crime Branch investigating officer Kuldeep Singh sought their custody for 14 days but was only given two days by the judge.
Narwal and Kalita are not the first anti-CAA protestors to be arrested and charged under UAPA with involvement in the Delhi communal riot of February 2020.
Jamia Millia Islamia students Asif Iqbal Tanha and Gulfisha Khatoon, Jamia Coordination Committee members Safoora Zargar and Meeran Haider, President of Jamia Alumni Association Shifa-Ur-Rehman, suspended AAP Councillor Tahir Hussain, former Congress municipal councillor Ishrat Jahan and former student leader Umar Khalid have also been booked under the anti-terror law in the case being investigated by the Special Cell of the Delhi police.
A Delhi court dealing with cases related to the northeast Delhi riots, being handled by the Special Cell of the Delhi police, observed on May 27 that “the investigation seems to be targeted only towards one end”.
Communal violence had broken out in northeast Delhi on February 24, leaving at least 53 people dead and around 200 injured. BJP leader Kapil Mishra, who gave an open call to violence ahead of the riots, is yet unbooked.
As many as 567 activists, professionals from various fields, prominent citizens and rights organisations have jointly released a statement condemning the arrests by Delhi Police.
Note: This article has been updated on June 1, 2020 to add details of the UAPA charges