Activist Umar Khalid on Monday argued before a Delhi court that the police relied on a trimmed video clip tweeted by a Bharatiya Janata Party leader and aired by news channels for its First Information Report against him. The court was hearing Khalid’s bail application in connection with an FIR lodged under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in the Delhi riots conspiracy case.
“Clearly the Delhi police had nothing except Republic TV and News18,” Senior Advocate Trideep Pais, appearing for Khalid, said.
Pais said that he wrote to News18 and Republic TV seeking the raw footage of the speech they had aired on the channels. In response, News18 said that it did not have the raw footage and was taken from a tweet of a Bharatiya Janata Party leader.
Republic TV said that the source of the video was BJP’s Information Technology Cell head Amit Malviya, Pais told the court. “It is [a case of] copying the tweet from a politician and placing it as your own news item,” Pais argued.
Clashes had broken out between the supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and February 26, 2020 in North East Delhi, claiming 53 lives and injuring hundreds. The police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods.
Khalid was arrested under the stringent UAPA in September in a case relating to a larger conspiracy in the Delhi violence. The Delhi Police had on November 22 filed a chargesheet against Khalid and student activists Sharjeel Imam and Faizan Khan in the case.
The Delhi Police claim the violence was part of a larger conspiracy to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and was planned by those who organised the protests against the amended Citizenship Amendment Act. They also claimed the protestors had secessionist motives and were using “the facade of civil disobedience” to destabilise the government. The police have arrested several activists and students based on these “conspiracy” charges.
The FIR against Khalid claimed he had delivered two speeches that instigated protestors and appealed to them to block the roads during then United States President Donald Trump’s official visit to Delhi.
The police document had alleged this action would spread propaganda internationally that atrocities were being conducted on minorities in India. On the basis of this conspiracy, Khalid and his associates got women and children to come out on the streets in Delhi to instigate riots, it claimed.
During the hearing, Pais played the whole speech before the court and said that Khalid had not called for violence.
He also pointed out that the police did not produce the entire speech. “Look how lopsided the whole prosecution is that they have one speech against me,” Pais argued.
The senior advocate said that the FIR claimed the speeches were given to instigate the crowd about Trump’s visit. He argued that the police claim Khalid and others accused met on January 8 to plan the conspiracy but the Union Ministry of External Affairs announced the news of Trump’s visit on February 11, reported Live Law.
“They tell you I knew about Trump’s visit on January 8 when the MEA did not know?” Pais argued.
He also alleged that the charge sheet is completely fabricated, saying that the statements by witnesses are “cooked up” and not based on any physical evidence, according to Live Law.
Pais argued that a witness first said that he did not go inside when the alleged January 8 meeting took place. Later on July 29, the witness claims that he attended the alleged meeting with the accused in the case, Pais told the court.
“These are people you’re supposed to believe for denying me bail,” the counsel said. “These are the kind of lies they are peddling.”
Pais also submitted the verdict of another Delhi court that granted Khalid bail in a separate riots case. “Please see how the learned judge deals with it,” he appealed to the judge.
The matter was adjourned for the day and the hearing will take place on September 3 again.
‘If criticism dies, society will die’: Sharjeel Imam
Another accused in the Delhi riots conspiracy case, Sharjeel Imam, told a separate court that his speeches had only called for protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and that cannot amount to sedition, reported Bar and Bench.
Advocate Tanveer Ahmed Mir, appearing for Imam, made the statement in his concluding argument during his client’s bail application hearing in connection with the FIR lodged under the UAPA provisions in a Delhi riots case.
“Critical elements in a society are necessary,” Mir told the court. “If criticism dies, society will die.”
Mir cited the Kedar Nath Singh versus state of Bihar case in which the Supreme Court had held that criticism of public measures or comment on government action fall under the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, Live Law reported.
The advocate also submitted that Imam was a student and not a member of any banned organisation.
The Court then asked Mir: “In his [Imam] speech, there’s [a] reference to [the] government of the day, Directive Principles [of state policy], strong criticism of Gandhiji, other political parties. Does it matter?”
To this, Mir replied that Imam’s speech should be seen in the context of whether he was addressing a crowd brandishing swords or students who debated on matters related to constitutionality.
“Everybody has right to subject constitutionality to criticism or support,’ he said. “We cannot be sheep following a diktat.”
The court accepted the arguments but asked if it makes a difference where the speech was delivered.
“Till the time section 124A [sediton] is in the statute, it has to be applied. But it’s there to be applied in a proper manner,” Mir replied. “If a speech is given in[side] a closed door and then let it [publicise] into public domain, which calls for violence or incites for violence, [it] will certainly lead to incitement.”
Mir said while deciding on a bail plea, the courts should also consider the delay in concluding the trial.
“Often this takes several years, and if the accused is denied bail but is ultimately acquitted, who will restore so many years of his life spent in custody?” he asked.
The matter has been adjourned to the first week of September.