Activist Umar Khalid has been kept in prison for two years in connection with a 2020 Delhi riots case on the basis of a fabricated witness statement, his counsel Trideep Pais argued in the High Court on Tuesday, reported Live Law.
“It is all hearsay,” Pais said at the hearing of Khalid’s bail plea. “So and so said that Umar Khalid said this. Please apply the test of hearsay. This is probably one of the only statements where there is some material against me.”
Pais argued that the witness statement had been recorded a month before Khalid was arrested and has nothing to do with the violence that broke between the supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA, and those opposing the law in North East Delhi between February 23 and February 26 of 2020.
The violence claimed 53 lives and hundreds were injured. The majority of those killed were Muslims.
Khalid was arrested on September 14, 2020. He has been accused of making provocative speeches at two sites of protests against the CAA and hatching a conspiracy to incite the riots. The activist has been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the sedition law and several other provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Pais said that the witness had called for a chakka jam, or a road blockade, on December 22, 2019, and then gave a statement to implicate Khalid so that “his [the witness’] sins are washed away when there is no evidence [of Khalid’s involvement]”.
Pais was likely referring to another jailed activist Sharjeel Imam. However, the lawyer did not mention the name of the witness whose identity has been protected.
Imam was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in April 2020 for his alleged inflammatory speeches made in December 2019 in which he purportedly called upon protestors to “cut off Assam from India” by occupying the “Muslim-dominated chicken’s neck”.
The comment has been alleged to be secessionist, but Imam has claimed in the court that he had called for peaceful protests to hold a “chakka jam” and block roads going to Assam. A chargesheet filed against Imam had alleged that the 2020 Delhi riots were a result of his speeches.
On Monday, Pais had told the court that there was no connection between Imam and Khalid, except for a WhatsApp Group called Muslims Students of JNU, of which both were members. Khalid has been accused without any proof of asking Imam to create the WhatsApp group to coordinate the protests, Pais had said.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the lawyer stated the witness claimed that Khalid had started a group called the Jamia Coordination Committee.
“I didn’t even start it,” Pais said. “The group was started by one Kumail Fatima. Even she didn’t say that I started the group.”
The prosecution has argued in the case that the Jamia Coordination Committee WhatsApp group and its members had played a vital role in spreading violence-related messages, reported The New Indian Express.
Pais argued that the prosecution’s case was being driven not due to investigation but by a witness statement.
“Basically UAPA is now this, you just get a person to make a statement and that’s it,” he added. “That’s the difficulty in which I’ve been arraigned in this matter.”
On March 24, a sessions court in Delhi had rejected Khali’s bail plea. He then then challenged the order in the Delhi High Court. On April 22, the High Court had said that one of Khalid’s speeches that led to the case against him was “obnoxious and unacceptable”.