A Delhi court on Thursday ordered the immediate release of student-activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha.
All three – arrested in May last year over alleged links to the riots that erupted amid tension over the citizenship law – had remained in jail despite the High Court granting bail on Tuesday.
Today, Additional Sessions Judge Ravinder Bedi – who dismissed yesterday’s petition by the Delhi Police, asking for three more days to complete verification of addresses and sureties – noted the High Court had already passed the bail order and that release warrants had been sent to Tihar Jail.
They are expected to be released at around 5 pm.
Hours before today’s release order the three activists had approached the High Court.
“The continuing custody despite clear mandate of law, beyond 24 hours since direction to verify sureties, is illegal. Direct the authorities to release us forthwith,” the three said in their plea.
In a brief hearing a displeased High Court questioned the delays – it demanded to know why verification of Aadhaar numbers was needed and if the police was, in fact, following due process.
The High Court had said it would hear the activists’ plea at 3.30 pm, after the trial court ruled on yesterday’s bitter back-and-forth between Delhi Police and the activists’ lawyer.
The High Court on Tuesday had highlighted the distinction between the “right to protest” and terrorist activity as it permitted the activists’ bail.
All three were released on personal bonds of Rs 50,000 each and two sureties of a similar amount.
On Wednesday Delhi Police filed a last-minute petition with the trial court seeking to delay their release; they claimed procedural delays in verifying sureties and addresses of all three activists.
This was after the 1 pm deadline set by the High Court and the activists moved the trial court for their immediate release.
The police told the court it needed three days to complete verification – one for sureties and two for verifying ‘permanent’ addresses of the accused.
CPM leader Brinda Karat, who offered surety for Natasha Narwal, was present in court when the police said they needed time to verify the particulars of those standing in surety for the activists.
To the request for two days for address verification the activists’ lawyer shot back that it was their Delhi residences listed on arrest documents.
“Charge sheet lists address as Delhi. Arrest memo shows Delhi address. Parents’ address (hometowns) isn’t our address here. As adults we rent a place and live in Delhi,” their lawyer said.
Among other delays claimed was verification of Aadhaar details of the three activists.
The Delhi High Court today asked: “You have sought time to verify Aadhaar numbers? Where does Aadhaar come into the picture? Do you follow this process in other cases?”
“Verification is the work of the police. Our work is to submit the bail bond… We have done our work. Can’t be in jail because police haven’t done their work,” the activists’ lawyer said yesterday.
Ms Narwal and Ms Kalita are JNU students associated with Pinjra Tod – a collective of women students of and alumni from colleges and universities across Delhi, who fight for women’s rights.
Mr Tanha is a student from Jamia Millia Islamia.
All three were arrested in May last over alleged links to riots in Delhi in February last year that followed widespread protests against controversial amendments to the citizenship law.
Over 50 people died and around 200 were injured in the violence that followed.