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Delhi High Court denies bail to Umar Khalid in Delhi riots conspiracy case

“We don't find any merit in the bail appeal. The bail appeal is dismissed,” said Justice Bhatnagar, while reading out the order. The bench had reserved its judgement on September 9

Former JNU student Umar Khalid (File photo)
Former JNU student Umar Khalid (File photo)

Ashlin Mathew

The Delhi High Court denied bail on Tuesday to student leader and activist Umar Khalid in the Northeast Delhi riots conspiracy case. The division bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar dismissed Khalid's appeal challenging the trial court order denying him bail in March. Khalid has been jailed since September 2020.  

“We don't find any merit in the bail appeal. The bail appeal is dismissed,” said Bhatnagar, while reading out the order. The bench had reserved its judgement on September 9. 

Khalid had moved the Delhi High Court after he was denied bail by the Karkardooma trial court on March 24. He was arrested on 13 September, 2020, and has been in custody for 765 days. His counsel senior advocate Trideep Pais began arguments on April 22 and concluded on July 28. The Delhi Police represented by special public Prosecutor Amit Prasad began arguments on August 1 and concluded on September 7. 

Dismissing the appeal, the High Court observed that Khalid had participated in various meetings at Jantar Mantar, Jangpura, Shaheen Bagh, Seelampur, Jaffarabad and Indian Social Institute on various dates and his name is mentioned from the beginning of the conspiracy till the riots.

On Khalid's Amravati speech, which the prosecution had used to underline that Khalid had called for a 'revolution', the court pointed out that the call to revolution may affect many beyond those who were visibly present.

"This court is of the view that possibly, if the appellant had referred to Maximilien Robespierre for what he meant by revolution, he must have also known what revolution meant for our freedom fighter and first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He believed that democracy has made revolution superfluous after independence and how it meant the complete opposite of a bloodless change," said the court.

The CAA and NRC protest were not the typical protests seen in political culture or democracy but one far more destructive and injurious geared towards extremely grave consequences, noted the court.

"At the stage of bail, the statements of all the witnesses have to be taken at face value and their veracity can be tested only at the time of cross-examination," underscored the court.

The trial court, while denying him bail, had stated that Khalid's presence in WhatsApp groups had to be read in totality and not piecemeal and that he was connected with many accused persons. 

The FIR against Umar Khalid contains charges including Sections 13, 16, 17, 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Sections 25 and 27 of the Arms Act and Section 3 and 4 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act,1984.

The initial chargesheet was filed against Pinjara Tod members and JNU students Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha and student activist Gulfisha Fatima. Later, a supplementary chargesheet was filed against Khalid and JNU student Sharjeel Imam and they were the last to be included in the case. Zargar, Kalita, Narwal, Tanha and Jahan have already been granted bail by the division bench of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani last year. 

Senior advocate Trideep Pais, representing Khalid, argued that the Watali judgment on UAPA also states that the evidence on reading has to be “good and sufficient on its face” to constitute the crime and only then can it be termed prima facie. “Otherwise nobody will get bail ever,” he added. 

What is the case? 

The Delhi Police claimed that Umar Khalid had attended various meetings on Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens (NRC) from December 2019 to February 2020 as part of a “conspiracy” to instigate riots in northeast Delhi. They argued that Khalid was a part of certain WhatsApp groups such as Delhi Protests Support Group (DPSG) and Muslim Students of JNU. 

The police insisted that the February 2020 speech made by Khalid at Maharashtra’s Amravati was proof of his involvement in the conspiracy to incite violence. The prosecution referred to the Khalid’s mentioning of former US President Donald Trump's India visit and opposed the bail plea by Khalid saying the speech delivered by him was a “very calculated speech” which brought various points including Babri Masjid, triple talaq, Kashmir, suppression of Muslims, CAA and NRC.   

The prosecution argued that misinformation was spread at the sit in protest sites and during Delhi riots and they maintained that the protests were followed by attacks on police and paramilitary forces. 

During the hearing of the case, the Delhi High Court had observed that the speech, even though it may be in bad taste, was not a terrorist act.  

 “The only overt act attributed to me is the speech which was a public event. That did not lead to violence anywhere. To simplify and say 'oh that speech in Amaravati was targeted towards Delhi' (is not right),” Pais had argued.  

The former JNU student had contended that he neither had any “criminal role” in the violence nor any “conspiratorial connect” with any other accused in the matter. Khalid had argued that he raised issues that several others were discussing in the other parts of country, including those concerning the CAA. Maintaining that there was nothing illegal in raising such issues, he also said that his Amravati speech — which forms the basis of the allegations against him — not only had a categorical call for non-violence but also did not lead to violence anywhere. 

Accusing the prosecution of “making stuff up as it went along”, Pais argued that parts of the Delhi police chargesheet have no basis and the conspiracy alleged by the prosecution should be “towards violence in Delhi” and not “raising issues of injustice”. He had asserted that criticism of government cannot amount to an offence under UAPA. Pais had also pointed towards inconsistencies in the statements given by several witnesses, including certain protected witnesses.  

The senior lawyer emphasised that there were no allegations of “advocating chakka jam” against him and considering that the investigation was still going on and the case, which is still at the stage of supply of documents prior to trial, has 850 witnesses, Khalid should be released. 

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