New Delhi: In two separate orders, a metropolitan court in Mumbai on Monday acquitted 20 foreign nationals who are members of the Tablighi Jamaat, observing that the prosecution has not provided even an iota of evidence to support the allegation that they violated the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
According to the Indian Express, with the acquittal of these 20 foreigners – 10 each from Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan, all cases against foreign nationals linked to the Tablighi Jamaat in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region have ended “either in acquittals or discharge, being cleared of all charges”.
The 20 foreigners were booked in separate cases in April by the DN Nagar police station in Andheri in two separate cases, which invoked charges such as attempt to murder, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, violation of visa rules and the rules promulgated during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The cases were filed after two police informants registered an FIR against the accused, claiming that they visited various places and persons and spread the infection and causing deaths. The informants also claimed that the accused had violated the lockdown norms and infringed the orders of the Mumbai police commissioner, according to LiveLaw.
However, the serious charges of attempt to murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder were dropped by the Mumbai Police in August. The police admitted that there was no evidence to show they had caused deaths by spreading the virus, according to the Indian Express.
On October 7, the court dropped all charges but one against the foreigners. Finally, they were tried under the Bombay Police Act, for alleged disobedience of an order which laid out the norms to be followed during the lockdown.
The accused told the court that they had informed the local authorities about their stay in Mumbai and stated that they were residing in the mosque because they were unable to return to their countries, in the light of travel restrictions which were imposed during the lockdown. “During imposition of the lockdown and their ultimate shelter in a mosque or nearby will not render them responsible for such contravention,” the court said in the verdict issued on Monday.
The court’s judgment notes that the prosecution had “considerable” documentary evidence, annexing “bulky documents on record in respect of lock-down and government directions”. It adds, “whereas orally the witnesses have not supported case of prosecution in its true sense.” The prosecution had just two witness, both of whom were police officials, who later admitted that they did not witness any violations of government orders on the part of the accused.
To quote extensively from the judgment:
“Furthermore, the prosecution witnesses have clarified that accused have not violated the norms of lock-down and order of Police Commissioner. Their versions are contrary to the documentary evidence on record.
Furthermore, the prosecution has not even carried out preparation of Panchanama and never recorded statement of any other independent witness. Thus, there is no legal evidence furnished by prosecution in support of charge.”
The court said that from the prosecution evidence, it transpires that none of the examined witnesses saw the accused persons together in the form of assembly. “Per contra the prosecution witnesses admitted that they have not seen accused persons contravening any directions or order issued by authority,” the court said.
“The said witnesses were also not found in position to tell where and how the accused person were residing at the time of alleged offence. Thus there is no iota of evidence with prosecution to show
any contravention of order by accused persons beyond all shadow of doubt,” the judgment records, before acquitting them of all charges.
‘Communalising the virus’
Tablighi Jamaat members from various parts of the world arrived for a congregation in Nizamuddin in New Delhi in March. When cases of coronavirus infections began surging in India around the same time, members of the Jamaat became the targets of a vicious campaign which claimed that they had travelled to different parts of India to spread the infection. Several false allegations were levelled against the Jamaatis, with sections of the media and many politicians coming in for criticism for communalising the virus.
In April, the Union home ministry directed state governments to initiate criminal action against the Tablighi Jamat members who had attended the congregation in New Delhi. Consequently, police in many parts of India began registering cases against foreign Tablighi Jamaat members. However, many of these cases began falling apart under judicial scrutiny.
Notably, in August, the Bombay high court quashed the FIRs registered against 29 foreign nationals and six Indians who participated in the congregation.
“A political government tries to find a scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is probability that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats,” the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court observed.