Activist Umar Khalid’s lawyer told the Delhi High Court on Thursday that mere membership of WhatsApp groups does not make his client criminally liable in the 2020 Delhi riots case when nothing objectionable has been attributed to him, Live Law reported.

Khalid, arrested on September 14, 2020, is facing charges under the Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to fuel riots in North East Delhi in February 2020.

From February 23 to February 29 in 2020, clashes broke out between the supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing the law. The violence claimed 53 lives and hundreds were injured. The majority of those killed were Muslims.

On Thursday, a special bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar was hearing an appeal filed by Khalid, challenging the trial court’s order denying him bail in the larger conspiracy case.

The prosecution claimed that Khalid was part of five WhatsApp groups, Live Law reported. Senior Advocate Trideep Pais, appearing for Khalid, said his client had remained silent in two such groups.

In the remaining three groups, Pais said that only four messages sent in the WhatsApp chats were attributed to Khalid. However, the messages neither incited nor called for riots, Pais argued.

“The fact that I was part of two WhatsApp groups, out of five cited against me in which I remained silent, cannot make me criminally liable,” Khalid’s plea stated. “I am not saying there was anything criminal in those groups.”

Pais said that Khalid was not the administrator of the groups, but merely a member, reported Live Law.

“Admins are someone else,” he added. “Nothing else objectionable is attributed to me. If someone else has said something, that can’t be put at my door.”

Pais based his argument on the 2021 Madras High Court judgement in the case of R Rajendran and the Inspector of Police. In the ruling, the High Court had observed that a WhatsApp group’s administrator has limited power of either removing a member of the group or adding new members. The functioning of the admin and that of members is at par with each other, it said.

Pais further argued that most witness statements presented by the prosecution against Khalid were recorded much after the events and close to his arrest date, indicating that some material was built up belatedly.

“If at all there is evidence which claims there was any kind of advocacy or incitement on my part, I don’t even concede to that, that is only in form of belated statements,” Pais submitted, Live Law reported.

The Delhi High Court posted the matter for hearing on August 1. Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad will then be allowed to commence his arguments.