Delhi Court Orders Release of Student Activists Who Got Bail as Police Rush to SC for Stay

The police claimed they need more time to release Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha because of address verification.

New Delhi: A Delhi court has ordered the release of student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha, who were granted bail by the high court on Tuesday morning. Additional Sessions Judge at Karkardooma Courts Ravinder Bedi said on Thursday afternoon that the court has passed an order and sent the release warrants by email to prison authorities, LiveLaw reported.

The three had earlier on Thursday moved Delhi high court seeking immediate release from detention. The student activists – granted bail by the Delhi high court on Tuesday morning in a case filed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – are still in jail nearly 48 hours later.

The Delhi Police has told the high court that it needs time till June 21 to verify their addresses.

“The “outstation permanent address” verification of all accused persons is pending and could not be completed due to paucity of time,” the police told the high court, according to LiveLaw. The police also claimed that it needed UIDAI to verify the Aadhaar details of the sureties.

The activists’ petition has called Delhi Police’s answer a “flimsy pretext” and has said that address verification cannot take more than 24 hours, if not immediately done. Indian Express has quoted the following paragraph from the petition:

“…[A]lmost 36 hours have elapsed since such pronouncement and directions, and despite forthwith production of sureties, who have deep roots in society and are persons of standing, having their place of residence in Delhi, the Respondent Delhi Police has sought to delay surety verification on flimsy pretexts to ensure that the Applicant’s release is stymied for reasons best known to the respondent.”

Meanwhile, the police on Wednesday also approached the Supreme Court, urging it to immediately stay the Delhi high court’s bail order. In special leave petitions, the police claimed that the high court conducted a “mini trial” in a bail matter and “watered down” provisions of the UAPA “which will have wide ramifications and will affect all the cases registered by the National Investigation Agency (NIA)” under the Act, Indian Express reported.

The police criticised the order filed by Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambhani in the SLPs, saying it “decided the case in hand on a pre-conceived and a completely erroneous illusion, as if, the present case was a simpliciter case of protest by students” and “appears to be based more on the social media narrative than the evidence gathered and elaborated in the chargesheet”.

The high court had made several critical remarks against the government action and police investigation into the case against the three student activists. “We are constrained to say, that it appears, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent and in the morbid fear that matters may get out of hand, the State has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity’. If such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril,” the court said in Narwal and Kalita’s bail orders.

The three were arrested in May 2020. Lower courts had dismissed their bail pleas in this case as it was filed under the stringent UAPA.

Narwal and Kalita are students at Jawaharlal Nehru University and members of Pinjra Tod, a collective that began in opposition to discriminatory curfew timings for women in Delhi University hostels. Tanha is a bachelor’s student at Jamia Millia Islamia. All three had been accused by the police of being part of a “larger conspiracy” that led to communal violence in North-East Delhi in February 2020.

Several rights activists as well as international agencies and observers believe this case was a way for the government to go after those protesting against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act. As The Wire too has investigated, several right-wing leaders who gave openly incendiary speeches and issued calls for violence have been allowed to walk scot free.

The Delhi Police, however, has argued that Narwal, Kalita, Tanha and others used the anti-CAA protests to try and disrupt the law and order situation, thereby inciting violence in a bid to embarrass the Government of India.

Note: This report has been updated since publication with news on the activists moving Delhi high court and the lower court ordering their release.