Updated: September 25, 2020 1:42:39 pm
The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court earlier this week quashed an FIR filed against eight Myanmar nationals, members of the Tablighi Jamaat who had attended the Nizamuddin Markaz in New Delhi in March, stating that compelling them to undergo trial “would cause grave injustice”, as there was no evidence to show that they indulged in any act that was likely to spread the virus.
An FIR was filed against the eight members, including women, by the Tehsil police station in Nagpur on allegations including violation of lockdown and visa rules as well as spreading Covid-19.
Later, a chargesheet was filed by the police under the Foreigners Act, Epidemic Disease Act, Disaster Management Act and the Indian Penal Code in July, following which the group – comprising members between 36 and 60 years of age – approached the HC for quashing of the FIR.
All members of the group had tested negative for Covid-19 in April. The police had, however, claimed in the chargesheet that they were responsible for the spread of the virus and had violated lockdown norms as well as visa rules as they were “actively involved in preaching activities by taking religious education and discourses”.
The police had relied on a statement that said that the members had studied Quran, offered namaz and had acquainted themselves about the Indian Muslim culture.
Court steps in
so far, two benches of the Bombay High Court have quashed FIRs against Tablighi Jamaat members in Maharashtra, observing that there is no evidence that they had spread Covid-19 or violated lockdown or visa rules. In Mumbai, the police have dropped stringent sections of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and attempt to murder in three cases. In two other cases, the courts have discharged foreign nationals.
Relying on the statement, the division bench of Justice V M Deshpande and Justice Amit B Borkar said, “…there is no material produced by the prosecution to prove that the applicants were engaged in Tabligh work and they were involved in preaching religious ideology or making speeches in religious place. On the contrary, from the statements of the witnesses mentioned in the chargesheet, it is clear that the applicants are not conversant with local language and they studied the Quran and Hadis in their language.”
The group had submitted before the court that they came to India via a flight to Kolkata on March 2 to attend religious seminars as part of the Tablighi Jamaat. They stayed in Delhi till March 5 and attended the Nizamuddin Markaz. Thousands of people, including foreign nationals, had participated in the congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz, with many of them testing positive for Covid-19 later.
On March 6, the eight members arrived in Nagpur. Their lawyers told the court that local authorities, including the special branch of the police and the local police station in Nagpur were informed about them, including their scheduled stay in the city till March 21. They were set to leave for Myanmar on March 22.
However, as the Janata Curfew was called on March 22, they were shifted to a markaz centre in Nagpur and the Tehsil police station was informed, the lawyers said. They added that from March 24 to March 31, during which the eight persons stayed at the centre, they were visited by a zonal officer and a police team. On April 3, they were shifted to a quarantine institution at the MLA hostel in Nagpur. Following this, they tested negative for Covid-19 but an FIR was registered against them on April 5, the lawyers told the HC, adding that they were arrested while in institutional quarantine.
The lawyers submitted that as the local authorities were informed about their stay and their activities were being monitored, there was no question of the eight members disobeying lockdown rules.
“We are of the opinion that allowing the prosecution to continue would be nothing but an abuse of the process of the court…,” the bench said.
Last month, the Aurangabad bench of the HC had quashed FIRs filed against 29 foreign nationals stating that there was no evidence of violations against them and that they were made “scapegoats” and jailed instead of being treated sensitively during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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