Half the battle won: Lawyers hail judgment, speak of impact
New Delhi: Even as a landmark Delhi High Court judgement has granted bail to Delhi riots UAPA accused Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha, several other student activists continue to spend nights behind bars after being slapped with the draconian law that ensures their imprisonment for allegedly conspiring last year's north-east Delhi riots.
As of today, former JNU student Umar Khalid remains imprisoned only for the UAPA case which is FIR 59/20. He recently got bail in the Khajuri Khas violence FIR.
United Against Hate (UAH) founder Khalid Saifi is also stuck in the UAPA FIR after being granted bail in both Jagatpuri FIR and the FIR pertaining to the Khajuri Khas violence.
MBA graduate and anti-CAA activist Gulfisha Fatima was co-accused with Kalita and Narwal in one of the Jafrabad FIRs where she was later granted bail but remains imprisoned in the UAPA case.
Similarly, JNU PhD scholar, Sharjeel Imam too who is involved in several other cases such as in the Jamia and JNU violence and for giving inflammatory speeches in Shaheen Bagh, but also remains imprisoned in the UAPA larger conspiracy case.
Jamia PhD student Meeran Haider too remains in jail in the conspiracy case and so does former Congress counsellor Ishrat Jahan and Jamia Alumni Association President Shifa-Ur-Rehman. The only persons out of jail in the UAPA case, apart from Narwal, Kalita and Tanha, are Jamia student Safoora Zargar who was given an interim bail due to her childbirth and Faizan Khan who was named in the supplementary chargesheet along with Khalid and Imam.
Meanwhile, legal experts and lawyers hailed what they called an unprecedented order on the Delhi riots especially as it showed that carrying out democratic protests cannot attract terrorism laws.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves said that the ruling will have a huge impact not just because it is saying something new but that it is stating the same thing in a "sharp and clear fashion". "There cannot be any act of terrorism without an act or incitement of violence...incitement was not there in this case...right to protest is a fundamental right and the terrorism statute cannot be used to stifle dissent," he told Millennium Post.
He added that the High Court has shown leadership in such matters as in these cases there was clearly no evidence or act of violence and only "some allegations in thin air". "You can't put a person away on the basis of these allegations...they lost a year...slowly the judiciary seems to be waking to the dadagiri of the police," he added.
Senior advocate Vrinda Grover said that the order reaffirms the fact that police is demonising and criminalising protests which is a democratic right by invoking UAPA. "Some notable points have been made in the order and it has also talked about speedy trials which must be noted by all constitutional courts," she said.
Meanwhile, advocate Sarim Naved, said that even on his reading of the chargesheet, the accusations seemed "flimsy" right from the start. "The co-accused persons should now apply for bail on the basis of this order as the three students have been taken out of the purview of UAPA completely," Naved told this newspaper.
Senior advocate MR Shamshad too pointed to the court's observation on the evidence against the accused not attracting the terror law. "Another important aspect is the portion where High Court has pulled up the trial court for not applying its judicial mind and accepting the Centre's investigation into the case for getting sanction on prosecution...these accused have spent so much time inside jail already, the police officers should be held accountable but that will not be the case," he said.