Listen to this article:
New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Tuesday, October 18, denied bail to scholar and activist Umar Khalid, held since September 14, 2020, over what the Delhi police have claimed is his connection with the ‘larger conspiracy’ behind the northeast Delhi riots.
A division bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar pronounced the order, according to LiveLaw.
The court observed that he was in “constant touch with other co-accused” and the allegations against him are prima facie true. The court also said the acts of the accused prima facie qualified as a “terrorist act” under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
“We don’t find any merit in the bail appeal. The bail appeal is dismissed,” Justice Bhatnagar was quoted by LiveLaw as having said.
Khalid was charged under the UAPA and several sections of the Indian Penal Code, and other Acts. He has been in jail for 764 days.
Khalid was denied bail by a lower court on March 23, after it was deferred thrice, and after the hearing had stretched for eight months. Khalid had challenged the refusal of bail before the high court.
Anti-CAA protests ‘metamorphosed into violent riots’
The bench said the anti-CAA protests “metamorphosed into violent riots”, which “prima facie seemed to be orchestrated at the conspiratorial meetings”, and the statements of the witnesses indicate Khalid’s “active involvement” in the protests.
“The appellant (Khalid) was in constant touch with other co-accused persons, including Sharjeel Imam, who arguably is at the head of the conspiracy; at this stage (of bail), it is difficult to form an opinion that there are not reasonable grounds for believing that the accusation against the petitioner is prima facie not proved,” observed the bench.
“On in-depth and considered perusal of the chargesheet, the accompanying documents, this court expresses the inescapable conclusion that allegations against the appellant are ‘prima facie true’ and hence, the embargo (on bail) created by Section 43D(5) of UAPA applies squarely. Thus, the appellant’s application seeking regular bail is rejected,” the court ruled.
Khalid, Imam, and several others have been booked under the anti-terror law UAPA and provisions of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly being the “masterminds” of the February 2020 riots, which left 53 people dead and over 700 injured. The violence had erupted during the protests against CAA and NRC.
In its 52-page order, the court observed that the “planned protests” were not the kind that is “normal in political culture or democracy (but were) far more destructive and injurious geared towards extremely grave consequences” and the acts of the accused prima facie qualified as “terrorist act” under UAPA.
Taking the chargesheet and other material on face value, the court noted there was intentional blocking of roads to cause disruption in north-east Delhi, and the weapons used, the manner of attack and the resultant deaths and destruction indicate it was pre-planned.
It asserted that acts which threaten the country’s unity, cause communal friction and create terror in any section of the people by disturbing the social-fabric is a “terrorist act” and the issue of granting bail in the present case has to be considered in the “larger context of the societal concerns involved in releasing an accused in juxtaposition with individual liberty”.
The court said the statements of the protected witnesses indicate the presence and active involvement of the appellant in the protests against the CAA and NRC.
“Admittedly these protests metamorphosed into violent riots in February 2020, which began by firstly choking public roads, then violently and designedly attacking policemen and random members of the public, whereat firearms, acid bottles, stones etc. were used, resulting in the admitted and sad loss of 53 precious lives and the destruction of property worth several crores,” it said.
These protests and riots prima facie were orchestrated at the conspiratorial meetings held from December 2019 till February 2020, the court said.
“As per the pre-meditated plan there was an intentional blocking of roads to cause inconvenience and disruption of the essential services to the life of community residing in North-East Delhi, creating thereby panic and an alarming sense of insecurity. The attack on police personnel by women protesters in front only followed by other ordinary people and engulfing the area into a riot is the epitome of such premediated plan and as such the same would prima facie be covered by the definition of ‘terrorist act’,” it added.
The court said the weapons used, the manner of attack and the resultant deaths and destruction caused indicate the mayhem was pre-planned.
“Acts which threaten the unity and integrity of India and cause friction in communal harmony and create terror in any section of the people, by disturbing the social-fabric is also a priori a terrorist act,” the court observed.
The previous hearings – which went on for months – have been widely reported on, especially thanks to the high court’s repeated comments on a speech Khalid delivered at Amravati, which Delhi Police has sought to connect to the riots – during which Khalid was not in New Delhi.
Khalid’s description in the speech of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Mahasabha acting as “agents of the British” during the freedom struggle was interpreted by the Delhi high court as “giving the impression that only one community was fighting against the British”.
This, the bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar went on to assert was “obnoxious, hateful, offensive and prima facie not acceptable.”
After having criticised the speech in successive hearings, the Delhi high court bench, said on May 30 that the speech, though offensive, was not a “terrorist act.”
Khalid’s prolonged incarceration in the course of what many have called a highly partisan investigation into the Delhi riots, have been widely criticised by global bodies, rights institutions and thinkers from across the world.
“They say we have entered the amrit kaal of azadi. But the ordeal of those defending freedom makes one feel like we are returning to the days of the Raj,” Khalid had written from prison for The Wire.
Note: This report was updated with details from the high court order.