Delhi court denies bail to Umar Khalid in riots conspiracy case
The court passed the order after deferring it thrice. The judge reserved the order on March 3, and said it will pronounce it on March 14, then he posted the matter to March 21, but the order could not be pronounced due to the last minute filing of a written submission by the special public prosecutor
A Delhi court on Thursday denied bail to former JNU student Umar Khalid in connection with the north-east Delhi riots, saying that the accusations against him are “prima facie true”.
Khalid, along with several others, has been booked under the anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), for being the alleged “mastermind” of the February 2020 riots, which left 53 people dead and over 400 injured.
Khalid was arrested on September 13, 2020 and his bail plea was filed in July last year, arguments on which went on for eight months.
The court passed the order after deferring it thrice. The judge reserved the order on March 3, and said it will pronounce it on March 14, then he posted the matter to March 21, but the order could not be pronounced that day due to the last minute filing of a written submission by the special public prosecutor.
Additional sessions judge Amitabh Rawat, while denying relief to Khalid, said that in a conspiracy it is not necessary for every accused to be present at the spot and that he was connected with other co-accused.
The court said that, even though Khalid was a part of the WhatsApp groups, he had not written many messages and neither were they provocative or incriminatory.
It however said, “….the fact that he was part of such groups created for specific objects and his acts or presence throughout the period beginning from the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act in December 2019 till the February 2020 riots, has to be read in totality and not piecemeal. He has connectivity with many accused persons.”
Special public prosecutor Amit Prasad, representing the police, said some people will try to set a narrative after the order. “What I am now fearful of is the narrative which they will try to bring in. Because when Ishrat Jahan gets bail your faith in judiciary is restored. But when the bail pleas of Gulfisha and Tasleem are rejected you want to play the student activist card. Now the narrative will come in, you have to be careful with it.”
The court, however, agreed with the contentions of Khalid’s counsel that there were some inconsistencies in the statements of some protected witnesses even though a finding has to be given on a cumulative reading of statements of all the witnesses and other events presented in the charge sheet.
The judge said the contention that the accused (Khalid) is a researcher and his bent of mind can be assessed from his doctoral thesis on welfare aspects of tribals of Jharkhand and other writings, is not a relevant consideration while deciding the bail application.
“If the bent of mind is to be assessed in this manner, then the co-accused Sharjeel Imam has written thesis on riots but any thesis or research work, by itself, done by any accused cannot be a ground for assessing his bent of mind. A bail application must be decided on facts presented in the charge sheet,” the court said.
The judge also noted that during the course of arguments everyone had referred to material beyond the charge sheet with numerous references to various examples of web series to drive home their points, however, all that is unnecessary.
“The principle of criminal law is to decide bail application on the basis of what is on record i.e. charge sheet and accompanying annexures, particularly, at the stage of post-cognizance and pre-charge,” the court said.
The judge said that the police’s charge sheet, taken at face value, shows that there was a premeditated conspiracy of the disruptive ‘chakka jam’ and a pre-planned protest at 23 different sites in Delhi to escalate and incite violence.
The court noted that there was an intentional blocking of roads to cause disruption of the essential services to the community residing in north-east Delhi.
“The target was to block roads in mixed population areas and encircle the entire area completely stopping the entry and exit of citizens living there, and then creating panic leading to attack on police personnel by the protesters.
“The weapons used, manner of attack and the destruction caused shows it to be pre-planned. Acts which threaten the unity and integrity of India and causes friction among communities and creates terror in any section of the people, by making them feel surrounded resulting in violence, is also a terrorist act,” the judge noted in its 61-page order.
Besides Khalid, activist Khalid Saifi, JNU students Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, Jamia coordination committee members Safoora Zargar, suspended councillor Tahir Hussain and several others have also been booked under the stringent law in the case
During the arguments, Khalid’s counsel Trideep Pais said the police have made vague aspersions against his client in their charge-sheet. He argued that the allegations against Khalid were “pure imagination” of the prosecution and there was not a shred of evidence to support it.
Pais submitted that the prosecution failed to address the loopholes and contradictions pointed out by him with respect to the statements of a protected witness “Bond”, whom the defence had alleged was “not a reliable witness”.
Paid also argued that the prosecution selectively chose the people to suit their case while dropping others who formed the part of another WhatsApp group.
The police opposed the bail plea and said that the accused planned to embarrass the government before the international media. It said that all the 25 protest sites in Delhi were “carefully planned and picked” because of their proximity to local mosques and were “purposefully given secular names” to prove the legitimacy of the protests.