A Navi Mumbai court discharged on Thursday eight Philippines nationals who are members of the Tablighi Jamaat and were booked by the Vashi police for violation of lockdown and visa rules in March.
The Vashi police had filed a case against them on charges pertaining to spread of an infectious disease under the Indian Penal Code as well as sections of the Epidemic Diseases Act and the Foreigners Act.
After the Bombay High Court’s Aurangabad bench quashed FIRs against 29 foreign Tablighi Jamat members last month, the eight Philippines nationals had filed a discharge application through their lawyers Ismail Shaikh and Sufiyan Shaikh before the Navi Mumbai district court, stating that there was no evidence to charge them.
They were a group of nine men when they came to India in the first week of March to attend the markaz in Delhi. From Delhi, they arrived at a mosque in Vashi where they were staying, and where one of them, a 68-year-old man, fell ill, tested positive for Covid-19 and passed away subsequently. Among the remaining eight, two later tested positive for Covid-19.
All this time, while they were charged, they had not been arrested. Eventually, they had moved to a private accommodation in Mumbai.
The Navi Mumbai district court on Thursday said there was no evidence to frame charges against them.
In Ahmednagar, meanwhile, for the 29 men who won their case before the Aurangabad bench of the HC, the travails are not yet over. The police have refused to return their passports despite being ordered by the court to do so.
On August 21, Justice T V Nalawade and Justice M G Sewlikar had quashed the FIRs filed against the men on charges that they had violated lockdown and visa rules amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The court had said that there were no violations found and that they were made “scapegoats” with the police filing cases without any prima facie evidence.
The Maharashtra government had sought a stay on the order stating that it may challenge the same. The court had refused to grant a stay stating that there is a long procedure before the men can return home. The men are from countries, including Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Iran, Djibouti, Brunei and Ghana.
On August 28, the 29 men had approached three police stations in three talukas of Ahmednagar district for the return of their passports and visa documents.
“Two of the three police stations refused to return the passports while one of them returned the passports on August 28 but sought them back again the next day,” said lawyer Mazhar Jahagirder, who represented the 29 men in court. On August 29, officers of Camp police station took the passports and refused to return them again.
The men went on to approach a local court stating that no reason was given to them for not returning the passports and that it amounted to contempt of the Aurangabad bench’s order. The court directed that the passports be returned.
However, when the passports were still not returned, the men approached the court again on Tuesday, following which the court has now issued a showcause notice to the police.
The 29 men had come to India in February and March and were arrested by the Ahmednagar police on April 17. They spent two months in jail without communicating with their families.