The Supreme Court will on Friday hear the appeal filed by the Delhi Police against the High Court order granting bail to student activists Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Asif Iqbal Tanha, Bar and Bench reported.

A bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubhramanian will hear the matter.

The three activists who were given bail on Tuesday had been booked under several first information reports in connection to the North East Delhi communal riots of February 2020. They were arrested in May and have spent over a year in jail. But, Tuesday’s bail was related to an FIR that dealt with the “larger conspiracy” and in which the police invoked provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

A day later, the Delhi Police approached the Supreme Court, urging it to immediately stay the order. The police objected to the sharp observations made by a division bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup J Bhambhani.

It said the High Court had conducted a “mini trial” and “read down” provisions of the anti-terror law, according to Bar and Bench. This, the police said, will have “far reaching consequences” for cases registered by the National Investigation Agency and other central agencies.

The police claimed that the High Court did not take into account the evidence and statements that were produced before it. “It had arrived at the judgement discarding the evidences which clearly made out a sinister plot of mass-scale riots being hatched by the accused,” the appeal said.

The judges also decided the case on a “pre-conceived and a completely erroneous illusion”, the police claimed.

What the High Court order said

The High Court undertook an analysis of the case documents to determine the prima facie truth and came to a conclusion that no case could be made out under the UAPA. The prosecution has only made inferences about the student three activists using “hyperbolic verbiage”, it added.

“...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 bench said. “If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy.”

Noting that protests against governmental and parliamentary actions were legitimate, the judges stated that though it was expected to be peaceful and non-violent, it was not uncommon for protestors to push the limits permissible in law.

February 2020 North East Delhi violence

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.

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

All the three activists 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.