New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam, who has had cases filed against him for sedition in five different states, has been arrested by the Delhi Police on Tuesday.
According to Imam’s lawyers, he surrendered to the police in Jehanabad, Bihar. “He will be brought to Delhi for production before the magistrate. He has full faith in the legal system and is fully cooperating with the investigation,” the lawyers said in a statement.
The PhD student at the university’s Centre for Historical Studies has been booked for speeches made during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
“We have arrested Sharjeel Imam from Jehanabad,” Rajesh Deo, deputy commissioner of police, Crime Branch, told PTI. The force had deployed five teams to locate Imam, a resident of Bihar. Raids were conducted in Mumbai, Patna and Delhi. Earlier in the day, Imam’s younger brother was taken in by the police for questioning.
In the speech in question, Imam told the crowd that no political formation had ever stood with Muslims and believing that the constitution would emancipate Muslims was “a suicidal thought”, and that they must “use the anger productively”.
“If we have five lakh people with us, we can cut off the Northeast from India. If not permanently, for one or two months. Put rubble on tracks and roads…. Assam aur India katke alag ho jaaye, tabhi ye humari baat sunenge (Once Assam is cut off, then only they will listen to us)… We can do that because the Chicken’s Neck corridor (connecting Northeast to rest of India) is dominated by Muslims.”
Imam has since clarified that he was only calling for the blockade of roads. “I was saying we should try to peacefully block roads wherever possible. In that context, I said you have to block roads going to Assam. It was basically a call for chakka jam,” he told the Sunday Express.
Police in Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Delhi have filed sedition cases against Imam. In Assam, the FIR also includes sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Imam had also been briefly associated with protests at Shaheen Bagh before he falsely declared that the protest had been called off because certain vested political interests were trying to hijack it.
Imam’s mother has since released a statement to the media alleging that the police were threatening and harassing her family. “Sharjeel Imam is being victimised for a statement that was twisted and taken out of context by the media. However, the police and state authorities, against whose highhandedness Sharjeel protested, are now harassing and threatening his family members,” Afshan Rahim, Imam’s mother, said in the statement dated January 26.
Rahim also told the media that her son was innocent. “He is a bright young man and not a thief or a pickpocket. I swear in the name of God that I do not know about his whereabouts.”
“He was calling for a ‘chakkajam‘ (road blockade). He is just a kid and not capable of instigating people for secession,” she added.
While Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have been equating Imam’s speech with “jihad”, several people have argued that what he says cannot be called sedition. You may agree or disagree with him strongly, they argue, but that does not make it sedition.
Lawyer Gautam Bhatia said on the charges:
(a) The sedition charges are unacceptable.
(b) Detaining his family is even more unacceptable.
(c) Harassing the entire village is outright State gangsterism.
None of this is difficult, and you do not need to take a view on the content of his remarks in order to affirm this. https://t.co/FpJabegSMR
— Gautam Bhatia (@gautambhatia88) January 26, 2020
Apoorvanand, a professor at Delhi University, broke down Imam’s speech in The Wire. He concluded:
“The five state governments which have filed cases of sedition against Sharjeel Imam need to understand the Supreme Court has decreed not once but several times that mere speech (or writings or statements) – however much we disagree with them or find them obnoxious or foolish – cannot be cause to file a charge of sedition unless that speech actually led to violence. That is the law.
A sitting judge of the Supreme Court recently delivered a public lecture reminding us of this reality. Yet, as we have seen in the past few years and especially the past few months, our police and state couldn’t care less about it.”