Delhi HC Says Umar Khalid Speech 'May Amount to Defamation But Not to Terrorist Activity'

The same bench had, in two hearings, criticised the activist's Amravati speech, calling it "obnoxious, hateful, offensive and prima facie not acceptable".

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New Delhi: The Delhi high court, which until now had criticised activist Umar Khalid’s Amravati speech in successive hearings, said on May 30 that the speech, though offensive, is not a “terrorist act.”

Khalid – named an accused in the controversial ‘larger conspiracy’ FIR connected to the February 2020 northeast Delhi riots – has challenged a trial court’s refusal of bail in the high court. Khalid was arrested in September 2020 and has been incarcerated since then.

A division bench of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar has been hearing this plea. LiveLaw has reported that in the latest hearing, the court struck a tone different from its earlier stance in which it called Khalid’s speech at Maharashtra’s Amravati, which is a part of the FIR, “obnoxious, hateful, offensive and prima facie not acceptable“.

On Monday, Justice Mridul orally remarked:

“…[T]hat the speech is in bad taste, does not make it a terrorist act. We understand that extremely well. If the case of the prosecution is premised on how offensive the speech was, that by itself won’t constitute an offence. We will give them [prosecution] the opportunity…Offensive and distasteful it was. It may tantamount to defamation, other offences, but it does not tantamount to a terrorist activity.”

Khalid had delivered this speech on February 17, 2020. Delhi Police have alleged that it is connected to the riots. The speech has also been selectively quoted by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in parliament, public speeches and on social media to claim that Khalid called for the blocking of roads.

In April, the high court had said that 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 “giving the impression that only one community was fighting against the British”.

It was this that the same bench asserted was “obnoxious, hateful, offensive and prima facie not acceptable.”

Earlier in May, the high court said that Khalid could have used “some other words” for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Referring to the Gujarat administration’s action to build a wall in Ahmedabad in February 2020 to hide slums from then US President Donald Trump, Khalid had said, “Hamare desh ke pradhan mantri ko sharam aati hai … ki Donald Trump ko ye pata na chal jaye ki Hindustan mein sab changa si nahi hai… (The Prime Minister of our country is feeling ashamed… He does not want Donald Trump to know that everything is not alright in India…).”

To this, Justice Bhatnagar said, “What is this? How can you use the word for the Prime Minister of the country? You could have framed it in a better way. He is making the statement against the Prime Minister. Some other words could have been used for the Prime Minister. He could have stopped at.”

The bench also deemed inappropriate the word “nanga (naked)” used during Khalid’s speech. To this, Khalid’s counsel, Trideep Pais, had said the term was only used metaphorically, to convey something along the lines of “the emperor’s new clothes” and to highlight the attempts by the government to hide its “lack of development” from Trump in February 2020.

‘Witness statements identical in language’

According to LiveLaw‘s report, advocate Sanya Kumar who is assisting Pais, sought to highlight on Monday the alleged loopholes when it came to statements by protected witnesses ‘Sierra’, ‘Smith’, ‘Echo’, ‘Delta’ and ‘Gama’.

Kumar argued that none of the witnesses had called the Seelampur meeting in the backdrop of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, a secret one, unlike what Delhi Police has claimed.

Kumar also highlighted that the statements given by protected witnesses Sierra and Smith were similar and identical in language, version and words, LiveLaw reported.

While Smith is the only witness to speaks of Khalid purportedly possessing weapons, no such weapons were recovered from him, Kumar said.

Pais also asked after the logic of Delhi Police citing as evidence a Facebook photograph Khalid posted from a meeting that police is claiming as “secret.”

“There is a picture, after that there is another. This is a prosecution document and a conspiratorial meeting. Would anyone who wanted to execute a conspiracy, take a selfie and put it on Facebook?,” Pais asked.

Pais also questioned the premise upon which the trial court denied Khalid bail.

The case will next be heard on July 4.