NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court Wednesday asked the police to reply on a plea by JNU student Sharjeel Imam, arrested in a sedition case for allegedly delivering an inflammatory speech and inciting violence during the CAA-NRC protests in 2019.
Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar issued notice to the prosecution and asked it to file a reply to the bail plea while listing the matter for further hearing on February 11 next year.
Imam, represented by senior advocate Sanjay R Hegde, challenged the trial court’s October 22 order by which his bail plea was dismissed.
The prosecution was represented through Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad.
Imam, 32, submitted that all the co-accused, who were arrested for allegedly causing the violence, have been granted bail in the case while he was still incarcerated for over 20 months now.
“Even after admitting that the evidence relied upon by the prosecution is ‘sketchy’ and all the co-accused having been enlarged on bail, the applicant was not granted bail by the (trial) court,” the plea said.
It said Imam has not been named in the FIR and has no connection to any of the events mentioned in the FIR and alleged that he had been arrested by the investigating agency as part of a targeted campaign to have multiple FIRs and investigations against him at the same time.
“Till date the prosecution has not been able to furnish the requisite sanction mandated under Section 196 CrPC to prosecute the applicant (Imam) for the offences punishable under Section 124A (sedition) of IPC in the present FIR,” the plea said.
The trial court had denied him bail saying free speech cannot be exercised at the cost of communal peace and harmony.
According to the prosecution, on December 13, 2019, Imam had allegedly delivered a provocative speech which resulted in riots two days later when a mob consisting of over 3,000 people attacked police personnel and torched several vehicles in the Jamia Nagar area in south Delhi.
The trial court had said that the evidence in support of the allegations that the rioters got instigated by Imam’s speech and thereafter indulged in the acts of rioting, mischief, attacking the police party, was scanty and sketchy.
It had said however that a cursory and plain reading of the speech showed it was clearly on communal lines.
“The tone and tenor of the incendiary speech tend to have a debilitating effect upon public tranquillity, peace, and harmony of the society,” the trial court had said, adding that “it is no gainsaying that fundamental right of ‘freedom of speech and expression’ cannot be exercised at the cost of communal peace and harmony of the society.”
Delhi Police had claimed that Imam instigated a ‘particular religious community’ against the Central Government by creating unfounded fears in their minds regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Besides this case, Imam is also accused of being the “mastermind” of the February 2020 riots, which had left 53 people dead and over 700 injured.
He has been booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).