Delhi HC grants bail to JNU, Jamia Students in Delhi riots case

The Delhi High Court on June 15, granted bail to three student activists, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Asif Iqbal Tanha who were booked under the UAPA law. The bail comes after a year in jail. They were booked under north east Delhi riots conspiracy case.

HC observed that the “line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred.”

A bench of Justices Anup Jairam Bhambani and Siddharth Mridul granted bail to the accused activists. The bench noted that the allegations against them do not 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.

In Iqbal’s order, HC noted 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 in Delhi riots were ordered to make a personal bond of Rs 50,000 each with two sureties. The court also directed them to not to leave the country, share their mobile numbers with the local SHO, and not to contact prosecution witnesses or tamper with evidence.

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

Tanha’s lawyer, Sowjhanya Shankaran said that he has been accused in the UAPA case and in a Jamia riots case. He has been granted bail in both cases.

The High Court said the allegations relating to organising of ‘chakka jaam’, inflammatory speeches, instigating women to protest and to stocking various articles, “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.” On these merits Narwal and Kalita were granted bail.

A month ago, Natasha was denied bail when her father got COVID-19 positive. She was granted bail after the demise of her father to perform his last rites.

Relying on old Supreme Court judgments, the HC 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.”

HC noted while deciding Tanha’s bail in Delhi riots case that “apart from militating against the presumption of innocence, pre-trial detention would lead to needless psychological and physical deprivations.”

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 definition of ‘terrorist act’ in Section 15 UAPA is wide and somewhat vague.

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