Former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid was arrested late on Sunday for his alleged role in the large-scale communal violence that broke out in North East Delhi over the Citizenship Amendment Act in February, PTI reported. A court in Delhi remanded him to 10 days of police custody, Live Law reported.
The Delhi Police’s Special Cell arrested Khalid under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act after nearly 11 hours of questioning. Khalid has been accused of being one of the main conspirators involved in the violence, a senior unidentified police officer told The Hindu. He has also been charged with sedition and 18 other sections of the Indian Penal Code, including murder and attempt to murder.
Unidentified police officials told The Indian Express that they are likely to file a chargesheet against him in the next few days.
During the hearing, the Delhi Police sought 10 days of police custody to confront Khalid with huge technical data of more than 40GB to unearth the “deep-rooted conspiracy behind Delhi riots”.
The police claimed that Khalid conspired to engineer the communal violence in Delhi during United States President Donald Trump’s visit to India earlier this year “so that a propaganda may be ashed at international forum that the Muslim minority community in India are being tortured”.
Khalid’s lawyer Trideep Pais opposed the remand and said the case against him was nothing but an “empty rhetoric”. Pais submitted that Khalid was always cooperating with the investigation and presented himself for interrogation whenever he was asked to. “So, there was no flight risk,” he added. “He [Khalid] was interrogated for five hours on July 31 and the whole day on September 13.” Still, the counsel submitted, the police could not find anything incriminating against Khalid.
Besides this, Pais said that Khalid’s speeches always appealed for peace and to uphold the Constitution. “There was nothing objectionable in them,” he added. “Being opposed to the CAA is not a crime.”
After hearing the arguments of both sides, Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat observed that sending Khalid to police custody was needed considering the nature of the case in which Khalid’s role that has surfaced so far in the conspiracy angle to the violence.
“The fact that the custodial interrogation has been sought of the accused Khalid for confronting the huge technical data as well as material that has come during the investigations, I deem it fit that for having an effective and proper investigation to allow the present application for seeking police custody remand of the accused Umar Khalid for ten days,” Rawat added.
The court further ordered that Khalid should be medically examined every 24 hours and that his lawyers, Trideep Pais, Sanya Kumar and Rakshanda Deka, should be permitted to confer with him for a period not exceeding half an hour. Considering the fears over threat to Khalid’s life, the court also ordered the deputy commissioner of police to make proper arrangements for his safety and security whenever he is taken out of office.
Days before his arrest, Khalid told Newslaundry that he was expecting the police action and predicted that there would be false stories about him planted in the press once he was in custody.
Activist group United Against Hate, of which Khalid is a member, said he was arrested as a “conspirator” in the violence. “The fairy tale narrative that DP [Delhi Police] has been spinning and criminalising protests in the garb of investigating riots, finds yet another victim,” the group said in a statement, according to NDTV.
Earlier this month, the Delhi Police’s Crime Branch had questioned the former JNU student.
Khalid’s name had appeared in the chargesheet submitted by the police against suspended Aam Aadmi Party councillor Tahir Hussain. The chargesheet stated that on January 8, Hussain met Khalid and United Against Hate co-founder Khalid Saifi at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, where “Umar Khalid told him to be prepared for something big/riots at the time of the visit of US President [Donald Trump]”.
In April, the former JNU student was charged under the UAPA in another case related to the violence. He was accused of instigating the violence by allegedly making provocative speeches.
The former JNU student at the time had refuted the allegations against him and said he was being falsely implicated. “It is an upside down world that we are living in, in which these organisations and individuals that have worked for communal harmony are being implicated,” he had said.
Khalid’s arrest came a day after the police named Communist Party of India (Marxist) Secretary General Sitaram Yechury, economist Jayati Ghosh, Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, and documentary filmmaker Rahul Roy as people who had “encouraged” the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protestors as part of a plan.
The police’s chargesheet also annexed two identical “disclosure statements”, in which the Delhi Police claimed that Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal admitted to not just their complicity in the violence, but also named Ghosh, Apoorvanand and Roy as their “mentors”, who asked them to carry on the protests even if it led to violence.
Clashes had broken out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it in North East Delhi in February, killing 53 people and injuring hundreds. The violence was Delhi’s worst since the anti-Sikh violence of 1984.