The Supreme Court has adjourned till Thursday, its hearing of the petitions of 34 foreign nationals blacklisted for attending the Tablighi Jamaat event, Bar and Bench reported.

Advocate Menaka Guruswamy told the top court that eight foreign nationals had been discharged in the case but the lookout notices against them had not been withdrawn, due to which they were unable to leave the country.

“The more they overstay wrongfully, they violate the term under their original visa,” she told the court. “There is a list here which details out all the particulars. These eight have no proceedings against them.” The top court then said those foreign nationals should be able to leave.

The court asked why Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was not present at the hearing. “He had assured us in past that whatever needs to be done will be done,” the court said. “But there are still grievances.”

The judges told Additional Solicitor General of Supreme Court KM Nataraj to ensure that the travel plans of the foreigners were not affected. “So far as the 8 persons are concerned, the names and case details are given,” the court told Nataraj. “You have to make sure their travel plans are not impeded. Their visas must have expired by now.”

Nataraj assured the judges that he we will seek instructions for the same.

The Centre had in June blacklisted over 2,500 Tablighi members and prohibited their entry into the country for 10 years. The action was taken after several state governments submitted information on those who had been accused of living in mosques and seminaries amid coronavirus-induced restrictions.

On July 2, the top court had ruled that all blacklisted foreign nationals can make individual representations before concerned authorities. This came after the Centre clarified in an affidavit that individual orders were passed with regard to the cancellation of visas and blacklisting of the foreign nationals on case-to-case basis.

In their plea, the foreign nationals had argued that the decision to blacklist them was taken unilaterally and arbitrarily. Their plea said the decision was taken without issuing notice or providing an opportunity of being heard, in blatant violation of principles of natural justice, and of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The petitioners contended that not only has the sudden decision led to FIRs being registered against them but has also resulted in them having to forfeit their passports to the state administration. They said this was a complete deprivation of personal liberty.

The Tablighi Jamaat event

The Tablighi Jamaat is a Sunni Muslim sect with followers in over 80 countries. Thousands of Indians and hundreds of foreigners had attended a conference held by it in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area in March. It later emerged as a coronavirus hotspot. After the event, many participants returned home across the country while others travelled to meetings, raising concerns about the scale of the potential spread of infection.

Some sections of the media had linked the congregation to a rise in the spread of the coronavirus cases. Relentless social media slander included the use of hashtags like #CoronaJihad. TV news channels like ABP Live called members of the Jamaat “manav bomb” or human bomb, a sentiment echoed by BJP leaders, including former Maharashtra chief ministerDevendra Fadnavis. Sudhir Chaudhary of Zee News said on his show that the “Tablighi Jamaat betrayed the nation.”

On October 8, the Supreme Court had even pulled up the Centre for filing an affidavit stating that there “were no instances of bad reporting” on the Tablighi Jamaat congregation on a plea against the criminalisation of the event.

Last month, the Centre had informed the Rajya Sabha that the gathering led to a spurt in cases. In the same month, the Bombay High Court had quashed a first information report against eight people from Myanmar, who attended the Tablighi event, saying that there was no evidence to show they indulged in any act, which was likely to spread the infection.

In August, the Bombay High Court quashed three more FIRs against 35 petitioners – 29 of them foreign nationals. The court had said in its judgement that the foreigners had been made “scapegoats” and that the action against them was an “indirect warning to Indian Muslims” after the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

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