Sharjeel Imam Moves Delhi HC for Bail, Cites SC Abeyance Order on Sedition Law

He said the case against him now 'stands significantly diluted and improves his case for securing bail'.

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New Delhi: Citing the Supreme Court’s recent order to put proceedings in all sedition cases on hold, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam has moved the Delhi high court for bail in relation to sedition charges against him, Bar and Bench has reported.

On May 12, Imam in his plea urged the court to scrap sedition charges against him. “In view of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s directions, the hindrance raised by the Ld. Special Court in the impugned order stands obviated, and observations surrounding the offence under section 124-A IPC cannot be taken into consideration in the proceedings against the Appellant pending the final outcome of the Constitutional challenges to the section,” the news outlet quoted from Imam’s bail plea.

His latest bail plea is in addition to his already pending bail appeal with the high court in the case pertaining to his alleged inflammatory speeches related to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Although both his bail pleas were to be heard on Tuesday, May 16, the division bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar did not assemble on Tuesday and the application has been listed for hearing on May 26. His other bail application in relation to the Delhi riots conspiracy case will be heard separately on May 23.

The application, filed through advocates Talib Mustafa, Ahmad Ibrahim, and Kartik Venu, said the trial court’s order rejecting his bail was primarily based on the premise that the special court had no power to grant bail under Section 437 of the CrPC in view of the limitations imposed therein, once the court had by separate order, sought it fit to frame sedition charges against Imam.

It further said Imam had been incarcerated for nearly 28 months whereas the maximum punishment for the offences, not including 124A IPC, is punishable up to a maximum of seven years of imprisonment.

Invoking the apex court’s order to put proceedings in sedition cases in abeyance, Imam said the case against him now “stands significantly diluted and improves his case for securing bail”.

In a significant order, the Supreme Court on May 11 said that all pending appeals and proceedings with regard to charges framed under Section 124A (sedition) to be kept in abeyance. It also said those booked under sedition can approach courts for relief.

According to the prosecution, Imam had allegedly made speeches at Jamia Millia Islamia on December 13, 2019, and at the Aligarh Muslim University on December 16, 2019, where he threatened to cut off Assam and the rest of the Northeast from India.

Imam, who has been charged with section 124A of the IPC which entails life imprisonment, approached the high court challenging a trial court’s January 24 order denying him bail in the case.

Imam’s counsel said he had been in custody for the last over two years and there was no likelihood of the trial getting over in the near future as there were more than 170 witnesses to be examined and the trial has not even started yet.

The bail plea said the instant FIR was registered against Imam on January 25, 2020, simultaneously with four other FIRs across multiple states for the same speeches attributed to him.

The instant FIR was originally registered for the offences punishable under sections 124A (punishment for sedition, 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence), 153B (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505(2) (Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the IPC and later section 13 (punishment for unlawful activities) of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) was added.

Subsequently, Imam was arrested in this case from Bihar on January 28, 2020, and was remanded to police custody for eight days and has been in continuous judicial custody since then.

He is also one of the accused in the 2020 Delhi riots conspiracy case.

The prosecution claimed that his speeches incited hatred, contempt, and disaffection towards the Central Government and instigated the people which led to the violence in December 2019.

“In the garb of CAA, he (Imam) exhorted people of a particular community to block highways leading to major cities and resort to chakka jaam. Also, in the name of opposing CAA, he openly threatened to cut off Assam and other Northeastern states from the rest of the country,” the Delhi Police’s charge sheet stated.

In his defence, Imam had earlier told the court that he was not a terrorist and his prosecution was a whip of a monarch rather than a government established by law.

The prosecution claimed that violent riots took place pursuant to Imam’s speech.

Note: This copy, first published on May 16, was updated with the details of the hearing of Sharjeel Imam’s bail pleas on May 17.   

(With PTI inputs)