‘Free speech not at cost of communal harmony’: Imam’s bail plea dismissed

  • The prosecution argued that Imam allegedly delivered provocative speeches on December 13 and 15 in 2019 and January 16, 2020, resulting in riots at several places.
JNU student Sharjeel Imam.(Amal KS/ Hindustan Times)
JNU student Sharjeel Imam.(Amal KS/ Hindustan Times)
Published on Oct 23, 2021 05:02 AM IST
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By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The “fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression cannot be exercised at cost of communal peace and harmony of society,” said a Delhi court on Friday as it denied bail to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam for allegedly making a seditious speech at Jamia Nagar in 2019 during a protest against the amended citizenship law.

Imam on December 13, 2019, allegedly delivered a provocative speech, which, according to the police, resulted in riots two days later when a mob of over 3,000 people attacked police personnel and torched several vehicles in south Delhi’s Jamia Nagar area.

The prosecution argued that Imam allegedly delivered provocative speeches on December 13 and 15 in 2019 and January 16, 2020, resulting in riots at several places.

The case in which his bail plea was dismissed on Friday pertained to the December 13 speech, which allegedly instigated a religious community against the government by creating unfounded fears in their minds regarding the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

In a 10-page order, additional sessions judge Anuj Aggarwal said a “cursory” and “plain reading” of the speech revealed that it was “clearly” on communal and divisive lines.

“In my view, the tone and tenor of the incendiary speech tend to have a debilitating effect upon public tranquility, peace and harmony of the society... considering the contents of the speech dated December 13, 2019 which tend to have a debilitating effect on communal peace and harmony, I am not inclined to grant bail to applicant/accused Sharjeel Imam at this stage. The accused cannot claim any parity with co-accused as his role is entirely different from other co-accused. Accordingly, the instant application moved on behalf of applicant/accused Sharjeel Imam for grant of regular bail stands dismissed,” the judge said in its order.

Quoting a line from 17th century British poet John Milton, the court said the fundamental right of ‘freedom of speech and expression’ has been placed on a very high pedestal in the Indian Constitution. It, however, added that the Constitution also places reasonable restrictions upon exercise of the said right inter alia on the grounds of public order and incitement to offence.

The court, however, noted that the prosecution has given scanty and sketchy evidence in support of the allegations that the rioters got instigated by Imam’s speech and thereafter indulged in the acts of rioting, mischief, and attacking the police party.

The judge said the prosecution did not cite an eyewitness account, nor was there any evidence on record to suggest that the co-accused were “instigated” and rioted after hearing Imam’s speech.

The court also said that the investigating agency’s theory leaves “gaping holes”, which presents an incomplete picture, unless the gaps are filled by “resorting to conjecture” or by relying upon the disclosure statements by Imam and the co-accused.

While denying Imam bail, the court also quoted Indian spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda.

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    Reports from the Delhi High Court and stories on legal developments in the city. Avid mountain lover, cooking and playing with birds 🐦 when not at work

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Thursday, January 27, 2022