New Delhi: While granting Khalid Saifi bail in a case registered against him in connection with the February riots in the city, Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav observed that Delhi police’s method of chargesheeting Saifi over insignificant material displayed “total non-application of mind by the police, which” went “to the extent of vindictiveness.”
Police had filed a supplementary chargesheet to charge the activist in connection with this specific case, which has to do with arson at a parking lot in northeast Delhi.
The court said it had failed to understand how a “lofty claim” of conspiracy could be inferred from a witness’s statement as it merely stated that Saifi, who is a member of United Against Hate, had allegedly met co-accused Tahir Hussain and Umar Khalid on January 8 in Shaheen Bagh, but significantly did not disclose the subject matter of the meeting.
This conspiracy claim by Delhi Police, through which it has attempted to push blame of the February riots on peaceful Citizenship Amendment Act protesters, has consistently proven to be a flimsy one. As The Wire has reported several times, the police’s own lines to support this conspiracy framework has frequently shifted, and rests largely on omissions, glaringly similar confessions and odd blunders.
Judge Yadav said Saifi cannot be permitted to remain behind bars in this case on the basis of sketchy material against him. The court granted him bail on furnishing a bail bond of Rs 20,000 with one surety of like amount.
This bail however, pertains to FIR 101/202 of Khajuri Khas Police Station, for which Saifi was arrested on June 6.
Much earlier, on February 26, he had been arrested under questionable circumstances for FIR 44, registered in connection with the riots, under the Jagatpuri police station. According to eyewitnesses, Saifi (along with former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan) was arrested when he was trying to prevent police from evacuating protesters from the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act sit-in at Khureji. Saifi eventually got bail in this case as well.
On March 21, he was held in connection with the infamous FIR 59/2020 of the Delhi riots. Saifi has been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and will thus continue to remain in Mandoli jail in spite of the earlier two bails.
Since the violence began in north east Delhi, Saifi has been one of the leading figures who had attempted to broker peace between communities and arrange for medical care to reach those in need of it.
Saifi had reportedly been brutally beaten up while in custody. Amidst initial allegations that police had not allowed lawyers to meet him in the first days since his detention, videos circulated on social media after his first appearance since arrest showed him wheelchair bound and with both his legs in plaster.
One of Saifi’s advocates, Harsh Bora, said Saifi’s health has considerably improved now and he is doing fine now.
The court noted that if the principal accused, Tahir Hussain, was moved or actuated by Saifi in the meeting, then Saifi should have been made co-accused in ten other cases like Hussain, “which is not the case”.
It said the date of recording of the witness’s statement, which was September 27, itself spoke volumes about the credibility.
“The sole evidence of this so-called conspiracy is a statement of prosecution witness Rahul Kasana, wherein he stated on September 27, 2020, that he was standing outside a building in the area of Shaheen Bagh, where he had dropped principal accused Tahir Hussain, and thereafter he saw applicant and Umar Khalid going into the same building.”
“I fail to understand from the statement how a lofty claim of conspiracy can be inferred,” the judge said in his order.
“In my humble opinion, charge-sheeting the applicant in this case on the basis of such an insignificant material is total non-application of mind by the police which goes to the extent of vindictiveness,” the judge said in his order.
The judge said it has nowhere been the case of the prosecution that Saifi was physically present at the scene of crime on the day of the incident. He also added that the court has not been seen any CCTV footage or viral videos of the matter.
“The applicant (Saifi) has merely been roped in the matter on the basis of his own disclosure statement and fourth disclosure statement of co-accused Tahir Hussain. Even no recovery of any sort has been effected from the applicant pursuant to his disclosure statement,” it said.
Questions cloud the nature of the confession Hussain made in the first place. To The Wire, the councillor’s advocate Javed Ali had said in early August that the ‘confession’ which Delhi police had obtained and filed as an attachment with the chargesheet against Hussain would not even be admissible in court. Hussain has maintained that he is a victim of the riots, not a perpetrator.
The court noted that the contention that he had been in regular contact with Hussain and Khalid over mobile phone was hardly of any consequence, as these facts did not in any way go on to establish the criminal conspiracy alleged against him in the matter.
“In the said case the statement under Section 161 (examination by police) Code of Criminal Procedure of Rahul Kasana was recorded on May 21, 2020, on which date he did not utter a single word against the applicant (Saifi) qua ‘criminal conspiracy’…,” the court said.
“Now all of a sudden, he in his statement recorded “under Section 161 CrPC in the matter on September 27, blew the trumpet of ‘criminal conspiracy’ against the applicant,” it said, adding it prima facie does not appeal to the senses.
It added that the other piece of evidence which police sought to use against Safi was a 71-second call made by Hussain to him in the intervening night of February 24-25, after the incident in the case had already taken place.
The court highlighted that Hussain has been accused in 10 other cases related to rioting but Saifi has been made accused in only two cases, even on the strength of the material that police showed against him.
“I do not find any rationale in the act of police in involving the applicant (Saifi) in this solitary case for the offence of conspiracy,” the judge said.
Senior advocate Rebecca John and advocate Harsh Bora, appearing for Saifi, claimed he had been falsely implicated in the case and his call detail records did not establish that he was in any criminal conspiracy with the other accused.
Special Public Prosecutor Manoj Chaudhary, appearing for the police, opposed the bail plea saying Saifi was allegedly part of a “large-scale conspiracy” hatched by Hussain with other anti-social elements.
(With PTI inputs)