More than a week after a senior Congress leader chose not to come out of a jail in Karnal, despite a bail order in hand, the Punjab and Haryana High Court Thursday granted him interim protection from arrest till June 29 in four cases registered in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh for an “objectionable” tweet posted by him last month.
Pankaj Punia, a former secretary of Haryana Congress committee, was arrested on May 20 following a complaint by a Karnal resident that he allegedly “hurt religious feelings” and “promoted enmity between different groups on ground of religion” through his tweet. Punia, despite being granted bail, had refused to come out of jail fearing being arrested by the UP Police.
Disposing of Punia’s petition, Justice Anil Kshetarpal granted “interim protection to the petitioner for a period of 18 days enabling him to avail the remedies available”.
“Till 29.06.2020, the arrest of the petitioner in the aforesaid four criminal cases shall remain stayed subject to objections, if any, to be filed by the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to the order passed,” the order reads.
A total of six FIRs were registered against Punia following his now deleted tweet. They include one in Haryana, three in Uttar Pradesh and two in Madhya Pradesh. According to Punia’s petition, the tweet posted on May 19 criticized the UP government for allegedly politicising the migrant labourers issue, and made reference to a 2007 speech calling for rape of dead Muslim women and also to an incident of harassment which took place at Gargi College in February.
The tweet was deleted later but FIRs under different provisions of IPC and IT Act were registered against him on May 20.
Since all the FIRs have the same origin, a petition seeking quashing of the FIRs in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh had been filed by Punia before the Supreme Court last month. However, the apex court declined to entertain the petition and asked him to approach the concerned HC.
In the case registered at Madhuban police station in Karnal, Punia was granted bail by the lower court on June 2 but he did not furnish the personal bonds as directed by the court as the release could have led to his arrest at the hands of police forces in UP and MP – five persons, who had come in a vehicle with UP number, wearing police uniform and having guns but with no name badges on their uniform were waiting for him outside the jail, as per the petition.
In the petition, filed before HC through advocate Sukhvinder Singh Nara, Punia sought protection from arrest for a period of four weeks to enable him approach the courts in the two states.
The order passed by Justice Kshetarpal also reads, “The petitioner is well within his right to avail remedies as are available in law. The offending tweet has already been deleted and the petitioner has also apologized. The petitioner prays for interim protection enabling him to seek the remedies available in law”.
Punia is already on bail in FIR registered in Noida. The remaining FIRs, where the accused is to approach courts for bail, are in UP’s Lucknow and Aligarh and MP’s Indore and Seoni. In the petition, Punia said he has a serious apprehension of facing a biased investigation and trial in case same is carried out in UP since the tweet made reference to the UP CM.
“The state of Uttar Pradesh seems to have adopted the practice of filing multiple FIRs against political opponents in order to keep them in custody for prolonged periods, pending investigation. This practice has created further apprehension regarding a fair trial and investigation in Uttar Pradesh,” Punia said in the petition.
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