A Delhi court on Saturday discharged 11 persons – including activists Sharjeel Imam, Asif Iqbal Tanha and Safoora Zargar – in a case related to violence at the city’s Jamia Millia Islamia University in 2019. The order was pronounced by Additional Sessions Judge Arul Varma of the Saket court.

Imam, however, will remain in custody for now on account of pending cases against him pertaining to the February 2020 violence in the Capital.

The other persons who have been discharged from the case are Mohammed Abuzar, Umair Ahmad, Mohammed Shoaib, Mahmood Anwar, Mohammed Qasim, Mohammed Bilal Nadeem, Shahzar Raza Khan and Chanda Yadav.

The court, however, directed the filing of charges against one of the accused persons, Mohammed Ilyas. He faces allegations pertaining to rioting, attempts to commit culpable homicide and criminal conspiracy in the matter.

On December 15, 2019, violence had erupted on the Jamia Millia Islamia campus during student protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The Delhi Police was accused of barging into the university campus and using excessive force to quell the demonstrations. The police claimed its action was justified as the protestors had allegedly injured its personnel and set buses on fire.

On Saturday, the court, while discharging the 11 accused persons, said that the prosecution against them was carried out in a perfunctory and cavalier manner.

“...This court cannot but arrive at the conclusion that the police were unable to apprehend the actual perpetrators behind commission of the offence, but surely managed to rope the persons herein as scapegoats,” Judge Varma remarked.

The judge also referred to remarks by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud from February 2020 that dissent is the “safety valve” of democracy. “The subtext is explicit i.e dissent has to be encouraged and not stifled,” the court said, while adding the caveat that dissent must be peaceful.

The court said that the liberty of protesting citizens should not have been lightly interfered with. “It would be pertinent to underscore that dissent is nothing but an extension of invaluable fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression...” it said.

The accused persons claimed before the court that although they were present at the site, they were not part of an unlawful assembly. They contended that there were no witnesses who could corroborate the police’s allegations against them.

The court, while directing the filing of charges against Ilyas, noted that police witnesses had identified him and an overt act of violence had been ascribed to him.

On the other accused persons, however, the court remarked that no “toolkit” had been placed on record to prove that they acted in concert with each other. The judge said that their mere presence at the protest site was not enough to name them as accused persons.

The court criticised the police for filing a third supplementary chargesheet in the case a day before final arguments on the filing of charges were to conclude. “This filing of a slew of chargesheets must cease, else this juggernaut reflects something beyond mere prosecution and would have the effect of trampling the rights of accused persons,” it said.