Bombay HC permits bail for ISIS recruit Areeb Majeed, rejects NIA’s appeal
Six years after being arrested for allegedly travelling to Syria to join the Islamic State (ISIS), Kalyan resident Areeb Majeed will finally be released on bail. The Bombay high court (HC) on Tuesday paved the way for Majeed’s release on bail after it rejected the appeal filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) challenging the March 2020 order of the special NIA court granting him bail.
The HC said the special court’s decision to grant bail was based on the fact that the under-trial had already been detained for a long time and the trial would not be completed anytime soon. The HC, however, imposed strict conditions on Majeed and asked him to initially report to the local police station twice a day.
A division bench of justice SS Shinde and justice Manish Pitale, while pronouncing judgement in NIA’s appeal, observed that though the punishment for Majeed, if convicted, would be from five years to life imprisonment, the slow pace at which the trial was proceeding did not give any indication of it being completed any time soon, hence the special court order was upheld partly.
“Looking at the pace with which about 51 witnesses have been examined, which took more than five years for the NIA court, there is clearly no likelihood of the trial being completed within a reasonable time in the near future. Therefore, we are of the opinion that on this aspect, no error can be attributed to the impugned judgment and order passed by the NIA Court, while holding in favour of the respondent,” observed the HC.
Majeed was booked for offences punishable under section 125 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sections 16, 18 and 20 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, on November 28, 2014, and was arrested the next day. While in prison, he had applied for default bail which was rejected and his subsequent bail applications on merit were also rejected. It was only in March 2020 that the special NIA court had granted him bail on the grounds that he had already been in jail for six years and the trial would be delayed. NIA had then challenged the bail in the HC.
The NIA, while challenging the bail, had submitted that there was no provision for bail under the UAPA, and the accused persons including the respondent (Majeed) formed an unlawful association to promote terrorism in Iraq, Syria and India. NIA, through additional solicitor general Anil Singh, had submitted that Majeed had allegedly returned to India to carry out such terrorist acts in the country, including blowing up the Mumbai Police Headquarters. Singh had also argued that granting bail would impact the trial as 107 witnesses were yet to be examined.
While answering to the objection of the NIA that the release of Majeed would prejudice the trial, the HC held that as the under-trial was well-educated, had observed proper decorum while arguing his case before the NIA court as well as the current bench, and had admitted that going to Syria was a mistake, imposing strict conditions would not be harmful to the society at large and would not adversely affect the trial proceedings before the NIA court. The court also observed that the family of the under-trial were well-educated.
In light of these observations, and the Supreme Court order wherein it had stated that the rigours of the provisions of UAPA for granting bail would melt down where there was no likelihood of the trial being completed within a reasonable time and the period of incarceration already undergone exceeded a substantial part of the prescribed sentence, provisions like section 43-D (5) of the UAPA could not be used for denial of bail, the HC upheld the NIA court order.
While holding that the bail granted by the NIA court on merits was not sustainable, the HC said, “On the second aspect of the matter, pertaining to the long pendency of the trial and the respondent having already undergone incarceration for more than six years, we are inclined to uphold the impugned order on the said ground. Yet, we intend to impose further stringent conditions on the respondent while upholding his release on bail.”
While ordering Majeeds release on a personal bond of ₹1 lakh, the court directed him to appear before the local police station twice a day for two months and thereafter once a day and so on. The court also restrained Majeed from speaking to the media about the trial and ordered him to cooperate for the expeditious completion of the trial. The court also asked Majeed to provide his residential address and surrender his passport to the police and warned that in the case of his failure to report to the police station, bail would be cancelled.
Dr Ejaz Majeed, father of Areeb, while speaking to HT, said, “We are thankful to God for Areeb’s release and we are waiting for the formalities to be completed. It is too early to comment on how we are going to celebrate his return home.”
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