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Delhi – High Court denies bail to Umar Khalid in 2020 riots case

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New Delhi. The Delhi High Court on Tuesday refused to grant bail to former JNU student Umar Khalid, in custody for over two years, in a UAPA case related to the alleged conspiracy behind the riots here in February 2020, saying he was in constant touch with other co-accused and allegations against him are prima facie true.

The court also said the actions of the accused prima facie qualified as a terrorist act under the anti-terror law UAPA.

A bench headed by Justice Siddharth Mridul said the anti-CAA protests metamorphosed into violent riots, which “prima facie seemed to be orchestrated at the conspiratorial meetings, and the statements of the witnesses indicate Khalid’s active involvement in the protests.

“The appellant (Khalid) was in constant touch with other co-accused persons, including Sharjeel Imam, who arguably is at the head of the conspiracy; at this stage (of bail), it is difficult to form an opinion that there are no reasonable grounds for believing that the accusation against the petitioner is prima facie not proved, observed the bench, also comprising Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar.

On in-depth and considered perusal of the charge sheet, and the accompanying documents, this court expresses the inescapable conclusion that allegations against the appellant are ‘prima facie true’ and hence, the embargo (on bail) created by Section 43D (5) of UAPA applies squarely. Thus, the appellant’s application seeking regular bail is rejected, the court ruled.

The bench had on September 9 reserved its order on the plea of Khalid who had challenged the trial court’s March 24 order dismissing his bail application in the case.

The court, in its 52-page order, said it was in full agreement with the findings of the trial court which was only supposed to ascertain whether the accusation against the accused was prima-facie true and not conduct a mini-trial at this stage.

It observed that Khalid’s name finds recurring mention from the beginning of the conspiracy till the culmination of the ensuing riots and the analysis of call data records depicts that there had been a flurry of calls between him and other accused after the riots.

Further, the former JNU student was admittedly a member of the WhatsApp group of Muslim students of JNU and he participated in various meetings on various dates and referred to the visit of the president of the USA to India in his speech given in Amravati earlier, the court noted.

Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, and several others have been booked under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and provisions of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly being the “masterminds” of the February 2020 riots.

The violence had erupted during the protests against CAA and NRC.

In its order, the court observed that the planned protests were not the kind that is normal in political culture or democracy (but were) far more destructive and injurious and geared towards extremely grave consequences and the acts of the accused prima facie qualified as a terrorist act under UAPA.

Taking the charge sheet and other material at face value, the court noted there was intentional blocking of roads to cause disruption in northeast Delhi, and the weapons used, the manner of attack and the resultant deaths and destruction indicate it was pre-planned.

It asserted that an act which threatens the country’s unity, causes communal friction and creates terror in any section of the people by disturbing the social fabric is a terrorist act and the issue of granting bail in the present case has to be considered in the “larger context of the societal concerns involved in releasing an accused in juxtaposition with individual liberty.

The court said the statements of the protected witnesses indicate the presence and active involvement of the appellant in the protests against the CAA and NRC.

“Admittedly these protests metamorphosed into violent riots in February 2020, which began by firstly choking public roads, then violently and designedly attacking policemen and random members of the public, whereat firearms, acid bottles, stones etc. were used, resulting in the admitted and sad loss of 53 precious lives and the destruction of property worth several crores,” it said.

These protests and riots prima facie were orchestrated at the conspiratorial meetings held from December 2019 till February 2020, the court said.

As per the pre-meditated plan, there was an intentional blocking of roads to cause inconvenience and disruption of the essential services to the life of the community residing in North-East Delhi, creating thereby panic and an alarming sense of insecurity.

“The attack on police personnel by women protesters in front only followed by other ordinary people and engulfing the area into a riot is the epitome of such premediated plan and as such the same would prima facie be covered by the definition of ‘terrorist act’, it added.

The court said the weapons used, the manner of attack and the resultant deaths and destruction caused indicate the mayhem was pre-planned.

“Acts which threaten the unity and integrity of India and cause friction in communal harmony and create terror in any section of the people, by disturbing the social fabric is also a priori a terrorist act, the court observed.

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