The Delhi high court on Tuesday refused interim protection from arrest to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, who had sought to surrender at an undisclosed location and time in a sedition case.
Besides, the court directed Delhi Police to file a status report on arrested JNU student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s bail plea by Wednesday, the next date of hearing. The court, which advised the accused students to follow the rule of law, will also hear pleas of Khalid and Bhattacharya.
Kumar was charged with sedition and arrested after TV news reported students making hate speeches and shouting anti-India slogans at a February 9 event on the campus to mark the anniversary of 2003 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s hanging.
Police opposed the bail plea of Kumar, who was arrested 11 days ago.
Delhi Police commissioner BS Bassi, who last week said police will not contest Kumar’s bail application, justified the change in stand, saying circumstances have changed.
“If he comes out on bail, he is bound to impact the investigation and influence witnesses. He is likely to indulge in activities that could break penal laws. That is why we have opposed his bail,” Bassi said.
Khalid, a PhD scholar and former member of the ultra-radical Democratic Students Union (DSU), was the organiser of the event. He, Bhattacharya, JNU student union general secretary Rama Naga, Ashutosh Kumar and Anant Prakash Narayan were accused by police of shouting seditious slogans.
They were hiding since Kumar’s arrest but resurfaced on the campus on Sunday night. Police have not arrested them, though Bassi issued a warning. “If we feel that they are unlikely to abide by the law, we have options available and we will not shy away from using them,” he said.
Rama Naga, Ashutosh and Anant have agreed to cooperate with the police investigation.
When the court heard in the afternoon Khalid and Bhattacharya’s appeal for protection from arrest until their surrender, it asked the petitioners to secretly give details of the date, place and time where they will give in.
Earlier, DCP (South) Prem Nath did not agree to the place where the duo wished to surrender, saying it was not accessible to police.
Khalid and Bhattacharya’s counsel Kamini Jaiswal told the court that her clients were facing “threat to life and limb”, constantly. She referred to media reports of some advocates threatening to kill the students.
Heavy security ringed the high court complex after violence at the Patiala House courts on February 15 and 17 when rogue lawyers assaulted Kumar, litigants as well as journalists.
Kumar, who will be in judicial custody till March 2, had moved his bail plea in the high court following a Supreme Court direction. He had approached the top court for bail citing threat to his life in Tihar jail.
He contended that he was falsely implicated and wrongly arrested on the basis of an FIR, which has no evidence that he had shouted anti-national slogans.
Delhi Police, in their latest report, cited evidence collected by the JNU internal inquiry committee that suggests eight students, including Kumar, allegedly shouted unconstitutional slogans.
But they failed to pinpoint anyone who eyewitnesses, including police personnel and JNU staff, had specifically claimed to have seen chanting anti-national slogans.
The report lists 29 slogans but doesn’t include “Pakistan Zindabad”, which was mentioned in the statement attached with the FIR, registered on the basis of a video clip obtained from Zee News.
The list of evidence against Kumar includes his presence in a group shouting slogans, attributed to eyewitnesses and the news channel’s footage.
The report mentions Khalid and Bhattacharya as the event organizers. But again, it does not specify whether the two were particularly spotted shouting anti-national slogans.
Another bench of the court dismissed for technical reasons a plea for immediate arrest of five JNU students accused of anti-national slogans. It asked the petitioner, a Delhi-based lawyer, to file a fresh petition.
With inputs from agencies