Student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha walked out Delhi’s Tihar Jail on Thursday, hours after a trial court ordered their immediate release, Live Law reported.

“It shows the desperation of the government,” Kalita told reporters after being released, according to NDTV. “We are women who are not scared of them. We survived because we received tremendous support from friends, from well-wishers. I thank them all.”

Narwal thanked the Delhi High Court for the verdict. “Any such protest that we have done is not terrorism,” she added. “It was a democratic protest, led by women. They can only threaten us. They can threaten to incarcerate us, but that only strengthens our resolve to carry on our fight.”

The three were granted bail by the Delhi High Court on Tuesday in a case related to Delhi violence in February 2020. The order meant that the three, who have been in custody since May 2020, could walk out of jail. However, the Delhi Police sought three days’ time to verify sureties and addresses of the accused.

Kalita and Narwal then approached the city’s Karkardooma trial court on Wednesday evening, seeking immediate release from Tihar Jail. However, the court reserved its order, citing the “heavy board” of bail applications that were already listed. Additional Sessions Judge Ravinder Bedi said that the trial court would pass the order on Thursday.

During Thursday’s hearing, the court said that the release warrants for all three have been sent via e-mail to the Tihar Jail authorities. Bedi said the delay in the verification process by the police could not be a plausible reason for the accused to be in jail, Bar and Bench reported.

The judge took note of a 2015 Delhi High Court order, which said that the accused cannot be kept behind bars even for a minute than necessary after the verdict and once they have furnished bail bonds with sureties.

Earlier on Thursday morning, the three activists had moved the Delhi High Court against the trial court deferring their release on Wednesday evening. The High Court refused to pass an order immediately as the matter was pending at the trial court at that time. However, it said that the trial court should “deal with promptitude” and the bail order must be implemented.

“We are not going to monitor the proceedings before the trial court,” the High Court said. “We can only say that it has to deal with the matter with promptitude. Our order has to be implemented, there cannot be two views on that.”

‘Conspiracy’ case against the activists

The case pertains to the Delhi Police’s allegations that the three student activists were part of a “larger conspiracy” in the violence that followed protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act last year. The three activists were charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Kalita and Narwal are members of women’s rights group Pinjra Tod, while Tanha is a student from Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi.

While passing the bail order, a division bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup J Bhambhani criticised the government’s actions in “suppressing dissent”.

“...It seems, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the state, the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred,” the court said in its order. “If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy.”

Delhi violence case

Clashes had broken out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and 26 last year in North East Delhi, killing at least 53 people and injuring hundreds. The police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods. The violence was the worst in Delhi since the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

The Delhi Police claim that the violence was part of a larger conspiracy to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and was planned by those who organised the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. They also claimed the protestors had secessionist motives and were using “the facade of civil disobedience” to destabilise the government. The police have arrested several activists and students based on these “conspiracy” charges.

Tanha, Kalita and Narwal were named in the main chargesheet filed in the case in September. A supplementary chargesheet was filed in November against activist Umar Khalid and Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam in the alleged conspiracy behind the communal violence.