Journalist arrested in espionage case granted bail by high court
The Delhi high court on Friday granted bail to journalist Rajeev Sharma, who had been arrested for allegedly leaking confidential information to Chinese intelligence officers, while stating that he is entitled to default bail because the charge sheet had not been filed within 60 days of arrest.
Justice Yogesh Khanna set aside an earlier order of the trial court — which had said that charge sheets in cases where the suspects had been charged under the Official Secret Act — can be filed within 90 days. The court granted Sharma bail on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and a surety of like amount.
Sharma, 61, was arrested on September 14 by the special cell of Delhi Police and investigators claimed several articles and some sensitive/confidential documents related to Indian defence department were recovered from him.
The prosecution said that during investigations, it was revealed that suspect Rajeev Sharma has been indulged in procurement of secret/confidential/sensitive documents/material information and conveying them to his handlers (foreign intelligence officers) based in China.
“In lieu of that, he was getting remuneration/money through illegal means i.e. hawala transactions/funds routed through shell companies being run/operated by Chinese nationals, in Delhi, India. During further investigations, it was found that suspect Sharma was in contact with these officers — namely Michael, Xou and George — through email platforms — like Telegram, WhatsApp — and was conveying the information to these Chinese intelligence officers,” the police had alleged.
On November 14, Sharma moved a plea in trial court alleging that he should be allowed default bail because the police had not filed a charge sheet even after 60 days of his arrest. However, that plea was dismissed by a judge stating that the period of 60 days had not yet expired.
Sharma, through his counsel, Adish C Aggarwala, filed a revision plea before the Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) challenging this order which is pending. In the meantime, on November 15, Sharma filed another similar plea seeking release on account of non-filing of the charge sheet within 60 days, before the duty metropolitan magistrate of Patiala House Court, who dismissed it on November 16 and ordered that the time period of filing charge sheet in this offence can be 90 days.
However, the high court, in a 10-page judgment, said that under the Official Secrets Act, under which Sharma is being charged, entails punishment which may extend to 14 years. But the section does not talk of a minimum period of punishment.
“... as such the period of challan in this case would be 60 days and thus the impugned order passed by the metropolitan magistrate being illegal is set aside and the petition is allowed,” it said, while adding that Sharma is entitled to bail as the charge sheet has not been filed within 60 days.
The police had opposed the statutory bail plea on the grounds that the offence where there is no minimum punishment prescribed and the maximum punishment is more than 10 years, the charge sheet can be filed beyond 60 days but before 90 days from the date of arrest.
The court asked Sharma to provide his contact number and address to the concerned police official and keep the location app on his mobile open at all time, and not to leave Delhi without seeking permission of the trial court.