The Delhi High Court, while granting bail to a man in an Unlawful Activities Prevention Act case on Monday, said that he could not be held to be a member of a terrorist group merely because he had a photograph of Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden on his phone.

A division bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Manoj Jain was hearing the bail application of a man named Ammar Abdul Rahiman, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency in August 2021.

The agency alleged that he had been radicalised by the ideology of the terrorist group Islamic State, and had entered into a criminal conspiracy to migrate to Islamic State-controlled territories in South-Central Asia “for establishment of Caliphate and to carry out the activities of ISIS in India”.

The National Investigation Agency alleged that Rahiman had downloaded Islamic State-related videos and Instagram videos showing “brutal killings” using the screen recorder option. It also alleged that photos of Bin Laden and Islamic State flags were found on his mobile phone, which showed his radical mindset and association with the terror group.

The High Court, however, said on Monday that this alone “would not be enough to brand him as a member of such terrorist organisation, much less his being acting in furtherance of its cause”.

The court said: “Such type of incriminating material, in today’s electronic era, is freely available on World Wide Web and mere accessing the same and even downloading the same would not be sufficient to hold that he had associated himself with [the Islamic State]. Any curious mind can access and even download such content.”

The National Investigation Agency had alleged that Rahiman had installed instant messaging application Telegram and web browser Safari to escape detection by law enforcement authorities. The bench, however, said that these were available in the public domain and no adverse inference could be drawn on this account.

“At best, the appellant was highly radicalised and had downloaded pro-ISIS material and was accessing the sermons of Muslim [hardliners] but that would not be enough to attract Section 38 and Section 39 of UAPA,” the court said.

The two Unlawful Activities Prevention Act provisions pertain to a person being a member of a terrorist organisation and providing support to it.

The bench granted Rahiman bail on conditions that the special court hearing his case would see fit. It, however, emphasised that its observations were tentative and were limited to the question of granting bail.

“Learned Trial Court shall not feel persuaded by any of the observations made hereinabove which are, obviously, not a final expression about the merits of the case,” the High Court said.