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Delhi riots: HC grants bail to Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Asif Iqbal Tanha in UAPA case

The Delhi High Court observed that in the mind of the State, the "line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred."

Written by Anand Mohan J | New Delhi |
Updated: June 15, 2021 2:02:17 pm
‘Victory of democracy’: What families of Natasha, Devangana, Tanha said about bail orderStudent activists Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Asif Iqbal Tanha.

The Delhi High Court Tuesday granted bail to student activists Natasha Narwal, Devanagana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha in the main northeast Delhi riots conspiracy case filed under the stringent anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

The court observed that in the mind of the State, the “line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred.”

A bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambani granted bail to the accused noting that the allegations against them do not prima facie disclose the commission of any offence under Sections 15 (Terrorist act), 17 (Punishment for raising funds for terrorist act) and 18 (Punishment for conspiracy) of the UAPA. The High Court held that therefore, the additional conditions, limitations and restrictions on grant of bail under Section 43D(5) UAPA do not apply.

The High Court noted in Iqbal’s order that in the chargesheet, there were no specific allegations other than “those sought to be spun by mere grandiloquence”.

“We are constrained to express that 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. If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy,” the order read.

The three accused have to furnish a personal bond of Rs 50,000 each with two sureties of the like amount. They have been directed not to leave the country; share their mobile numbers with the local SHO; and not to contact prosecution witnesses or tamper with evidence.

This is not the first time bail has been granted to an accused in the northeast Delhi riots UAPA case. In 2020, the Delhi High Court granted bail to Jamia Millia Islamia University student Safoora Zargar on humanitarian grounds, considering her pregnancy at the time. Faizan Khan, a SIM card provider, was the first accused to be granted bail on merits in the case after the police added provisions of UAPA to the FIR being investigated by Delhi Police’s Special Cell.

Kalita and Narwal, both pursuing their M Phil-PHD programmes at JNU, will be released from jail, their lawyer, Adit Pujari said. Kalita is facing trial in four cases and Narwal in three. They have now been granted bail in all cases.

Tanha, a Jamia Millia Islamia University student, was recently granted a two-week interim custody bail to attend his backlog examinations at the university. His lawyer, Sowjhanya Shankaran said he has been accused in the present case and a Jamia riots case, and has been granted bail in both cases.

While discussing the merits on which Narwal and Kalita were granted bail, the High Court said the allegations relating to inflammatory speeches, organising of ‘chakka jaam’, instigating women to protest and to stock-pile various articles, and other similar allegations, “in our view, at worst, are evidence that the appellant participated in organising protests, but we can discern no specific or particularised allegation, much less any material to bear out the allegation, that the appellant incited violence…”

Relying on a slew of Supreme Court judgments, the High Court observed that “protests against Governmental and Parliamentary actions are legitimate; and though such protests are expected to be peaceful and non-violent, it is not uncommon for protesters to push the limits permissible in law.”

While deciding Tanha’s bail, the High Court noted that “apart from militating against the presumption of innocence, pre-trial detention would lead to needless psychological and physical deprivations.”

The High Court said this would seriously hamper Tanha from participating in and contributing to the preparation of his defence at the trial.

The High Court observed that Tanha has also been granted bail by a sessions court in the Jamia riots case in 2020, and stated that in its view, “there also appears to be an overlap between the so-called larger conspiracy, acts and omissions alleged against the appellant in the said other FIR”.

In the court’s view, the fact that the definition of ‘terrorist act’ in Section 15 UAPA is wide and even somewhat vague.

“The phrase must partake of the essential character of terrorism and the phrase ‘terrorist act’ cannot be permitted to be casually applied to criminal acts or omissions that fall squarely within the definition of conventional offences as defined inter alia under the IPC,” the order read.

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