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Delhi HC overturns discharge of Sharjeel Imam, 10 others in Jamia violence case: ‘Used force & violence’

New Delhi: Eleven video clips, statements of 24 prosecution witnesses recorded with the police and Facebook posts — all of this was considered by the Delhi High Court which has held that former JNU student Sharjeel Imam and 10 others had prima facie resorted to violence during the protests against Citizenship Amendment Act/National Register of Citizens (CAA/NRC) outside Jamia Millia Islamia University in 2019.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma overruled the trial court’s 4 February order that discharged the 11, while observing that dissent is part of free speech. The trial court had said that the three chargesheets filed in connection with the case lacked adequate evidence to frame charges against them. A discharge order meant the 11 were not required to face examination of evidence.

However, the trial court had found sufficient evidence against one person, Mohammad Ilyas.

But Tuesday, while pronouncing its verdict on Delhi Police’s appeal against the trial court’s discharge order, Justice Sharma said the video clips as well as the witnesses’ statements recorded before the police had shown that the mob, including the 11, had used force and violence during protests. This, the HC added, is sufficient to frame charges for unlawful assembly and rioting.

“Thus, the common object of the members of the unlawful assembly and their actions was prima facie conveyed and reflected through the statements of about 24 witnesses recorded under Section 161 Cr.P.C. filed along with the first chargesheet dated 30 March, 2020, apart from the subsequent charge sheets filed (sic),” the judge noted.

Referring to the video clips, she said: “Nowhere in the video clips (are) the police officers seen announcing that the protesters cannot protest. Rather they were told to protest peacefully, which was their right.”

On the police’s role, she said, they were “dutybound” to stop the protestors from proceeding to a place — the Parliament — where section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (empowering the police to forbid assembly of four or more people in an area) was imposed.

The judge further said the police cannot be faulted at this stage for its action against the protestors, and that the law enforcement agency’s fear and apprehension regarding the crowd’s behaviour was not “purely unfounded” since the violent mob was persistent in marching towards the Parliament.

Justice Sharma further disapproved of the trial court’s comments on dissent being suppressed by the State. She said the remark “should have been avoided at this stage” because it was not possible for the trial court to ascertain if it was a peaceful dissent suppressed by the State or if the latter was trying to curb the menace of violence and its spread to other areas. With this, Sharma also expunged the remarks the trial court had made against the Delhi Police.

Also read: ‘No overt act or participation’ — why court discharged Sharjeel Imam, 10 others in 2019 Jamia case

‘Were asked to protest peacefully’

The Delhi Police had registered an FIR against 12 persons in connection with the anti-CAA/NRC protests at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in December 2019. Various sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC) were invoked against the accused, including rioting, causing grievous injury, participating in an unlawful assembly etc.

To disperse the crowd, the Delhi Police had resorted to lathi charge and firing of gas shells, leaving over 25 students injured. At least 42 students were detained from the site. Three chargesheets were filed in the case, with the latest filed as recently as in February this year.

While framing riots charges against eight accused — Imam, Safoora Zargar, Mohd Qasim, Mahmood Anwar, Shahzar Raza Khan, Umar Ahmad, Mohd Bilal Nadeem and Chanda Yadav — the HC Tuesday absolved them of causing injury and attempt to commit culpable homicide.

As regards Asif Iqbal Tanha, Mohd Abuzar and Mohd Shoaib, the court charged them under section 143 of the IPC (punishment for whoever is a member of an unlawful assembly).

“Though, in a democracy, there can be no question of dissent being suppressed or fundamental right of freedom of expression by peaceful means being infringed…at the same time, there is no place of violence collective action to register one’s anguish against ideological differences or resistance to a government policy,” Justice Sharma observed.

According to the judge, the accused had “created the common unlawful object”, which was to reach the curfew-bound area by using force and violence against the police officers.

“The main aim of their initial protest against the government policy was lost in the violence and in their persistence to break the law to reach a curfew bound area by use of violence and force against people and objects,” Justice Sharma said.

The 11 video clips, she added, support the version of the prosecution. “In the video clips, the crowd can be very clearly seen turning violent and pelting stones at the police, raising anti-police slogans such as ‘Delhi Police murdabad’, also putting private and public vehicles on fire and hitting the barricades against the police persons who had declared their assembly as unlawful and had told them that since they wanted to proceed to the Parliament and Section 144 Cr.P.C. was imposed there, they could not have gone there to protest,” the judge added.

She said the videos also showed that there was no infringement of their right to protest at that spot. “The repeated announcements which were also heard by this Court in the video clips point out that the crowd was repeatedly told not to turn violent or else action would have to be taken against them. Despite stones being pelted on the police persons, repeated requests were being made at the spot,” the court said.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: 2020 riots changing Delhi. Muslims, Hindus leaving old neighbourhoods, moving to ghettos

Source: The Print

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