Umar Khalid: Delhi court denies bail (again)

“Even after three years of incarceration, we are at the same place,” his counsel says

'Free Umar Khalid' poster circulated on social media (photo courtesy @jigneshmevani80/X)
'Free Umar Khalid' poster circulated on social media (photo courtesy @jigneshmevani80/X)

Ashlin Mathew

A sessions court in Delhi on Tuesday, 28 May, denied bail to Umar Khalid, the former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader who has been incarcerated in the Delhi riots conspiracy case since September 2020 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Additional sessions judge Justice Sameet Bajpai of the Karkardooma court dismissed the second bail plea filed by Khalid in the same court today. His first petition seeking regular bail was dismissed by the trial court in March 2022.

Khalid’s lawyers had moved a new bail appeal this second time in the sessions court after withdrawing his bail petition from the Supreme Court in February 2024, citing a “change in circumstances”. That petition had been pending in the apex court since May 2023, with the hearing adjourned on 12 occasions. Khalid had filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the Delhi High Court's decision to deny him bail in 2022.

Khalid was arrested on 13 September 2020 under the controversial UAPA over his alleged involvement in the riots in north-east Delhi in February 2020. He is accused of being one of the “key conspirators” in the riots.

The Delhi Police FIR against Khalid includes charges under sections 13, 16, 17 and 18 of the UAPA, sections 25 and 27 of the Arms Act and sections 3 and 4 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act 1984.

During this, his second appeal in the trial court, Khalid said he should be granted bail based on time spent in jail (over three years), lack of a prima facie case, and on parity with other accused facing far graver allegations who are out on bail in the 2020 Delhi riots conspiracy case.

Senior advocate Trideep Pais, who appeared for Khalid, said that his case had parity in part with the cases of Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Asif Iqbal Tanha and Ishrat, all of whom are out on bail. As a result, the case meets the parity test, argued Pais, pointing out that there was prima facie no case made out under the UAPA.

He began his arguments with the meeting on 23 January 2020, which the prosecution has claimed was a secret meeting, but the police obtained photographs from the meeting by getting a witness to download them from Facebook, where they had been put up. In these photographs, Khalid can be seen with several people; so “How do only a few people become accused?” Pais asked.

There have been 751 FIRs registered for the violence in Delhi after the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) was announced. Khalid is an accused in FIR 59 for a conspiracy to engineer the riots. His counsel had pointed out that one of the witnesses (Sierra) had claimed that acid pouches had been hurled, but in none of the FIRs did the police mention any recovery of these pouches, or any evidence of acid injuries or burns.

The lawyer also highlighted that this was the strongest statement against Khalid, but it also had no proof to back it up. He cited the Vernon Gonsalves case, where the Supreme Court had stated that “no material has been demonstrated by the NIA (National Investigation Agency) before us that the appellants are members of the terrorist organisation”. Pais said Khalid’s case was similar, as there was no material to back the terror claim against him.

The prosecution has claimed that Khalid's was a "silent whisper", but all of this is from the “fertile imagination of the chargesheet writer”, Pais said. He said the prosecution mentioned Khalid’s messages in one of the WhatsApp groups (DPSG) in the chargesheet to allege a conspiracy, where Khalid had sent just five messages, of which one was a forwarded message from a police officer regarding the protest, asking them to de-escalate.

Khalid’s lawyer pointed out during the second bail hearing that the chargesheet was prepared on 10 September 2020, just three days before he was arrested. The violence occurred in December 2019 and February 2020 and the so-called secret meeting in January 2020, Pais had argued, and in all this time, there had been no recovery of weapons either.

Highlighting the Yavatmal speech by Khalid, which the prosecution claimed triggered the violence, Pais underscored that Khalid had only spoken of Gandhi and the Constitution. For the police to claim that the speech was the trigger, there had to be imminent lawless action, he argued. One of the witnesses claimed that someone had told him about the speech, but he hadn’t heard it himself.

After several delays, Pais pointed out, the police sourced a public speech which they claimed triggered the violence—four months later, in July. When the TV channels had been asked about Khalid’s speech, which they had relayed, both Republic TV and Network 18 said they had obtained part of the speech from a BJP spokesperson. Pais questioned the police’s motives for attributing a riot to a person when they didn’t even have his speech with them.

“Even after three years of incarceration, we are at the same place (trial court) arguing for bail,” Pais had added. Now, it’s time to appeal to the high court again, having been denied by the trial court.

The other accused in the case include Devangana Kalita; Natasha Narwal; Asif Iqbal Tanha; former AAP councillor Tahir Hussain; Khalid Saifi; ex-Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan; Safoora Zargar; Sharjeel Imam; Meeran Haider; Gulfisha Fatima; Shifa-Ur-Rehman; Shadab Ahmed; Tasleem Ahmed; Saleem Malik; Mohd Saleem Khan; Athar Khan; and Faizal Khan. While Zargar, Jahan, Tanha, Narwal and Kalita are out on bail, the others have been in jail for more than three years. 

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