No justifiable reason to not grant bail to Sharjeel Imam in sedition case: Delhi HC

NewsDrum Desk
New Update

New Delhi, Jun 10 (PTI) There was no "justifiable reason" to not grant bail to student activist Sharjeel Imam in connection with a 2020 communal riots case involving allegations of sedition and unlawful activities but the trial court got "swayed by the enormity of the allegations" while denying him the relief, the Delhi High Court has said.

A bench headed by Justice Suresh Kumar Kait, which granted bail to Imam on May 29, more than four years after he was arrested, said in its recently uploaded order that the mere fact of the allegations being serious cannot be a ground to decline bail under section 436-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The court asserted that CrPC section 436-A was a benevolent provision which was enacted with the idea that no undertrial prisoner be detained in jail beyond half of the maximum sentence provided for such offences unless there are rational and logical reasons to direct otherwise.

"In the case in hand, we do not find any justifiable reason which could have compelled the court from not granting the relief," it said in the recently uploaded order.

"Learned Trial Court got swayed by the enormity of the allegations, observing that he had made inflammatory speeches which resulted in riots, the bail was declined," the bench, also comprising Justice Manoj Jain, said.

According to the prosecution, Imam made speeches at the Jamia Millia Islamia on December 13, 2019, and the Aligarh Muslim University on December 16, 2019, where he threatened to cut off Assam and the rest of the northeast from the country.

In 2022, the trial court framed charges against him under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity), 153B (imputations prejudicial to national integration), 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the IPC and section 13 (punishment for unlawful activities) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, an anti-terror law.

The activist's lawyer had contended in the high court that material witnesses were yet to be examined in the case and the trial in the FIR cannot be concluded in view of the Supreme Court direction keeping in abeyance the operation of IPC section 124A (sedition).

While granting the relief, the court rejected the Delhi Police's objection that the delay was solely attributable to Imam as it was at his instance that the trial was stayed in the year 2022.

The court asserted that any accused who chooses to avail legal remedy cannot be blamed for causing delay and in the present case, the stay order was given on the basis of joint statements of parties and it was not further challenged by the State.

"If any accused chooses to avail legal remedy and that too in terms of specific judicial pronouncement, he cannot be blamed for causing delay in the matter. Since he continued to be in detention, he was, even otherwise, not going to dig out any advantage at all, by exploring such other possible legal avenues," the court observed.

"We have no hesitation in holding that there was, actually speaking, nothing on record which could have disentitled the accused from seeking relief under Section 436-A CrPC. Resultantly, we hereby allow the appeal and direct that appellant be released on bail on terms and conditions to be imposed by the learned Trial Court," the court ordered.

Imam continues to stay behind bars as he has not been granted relief in the case involving alleged larger conspiracy behind the 2020 northeast Delhi riots which left more than 50 people dead and hundreds of others injured.

The trial court, while refusing to grant him bail on February 17, ruled that his custody could be extended for a further period in "exceptional circumstances" after hearing the prosecution's case.

It had said Imam delivered various speeches in Delhi, Aligarh, Asansol and Chakband that incited people and ultimately triggered the communal riots in different parts of Delhi.

On May 11, 2022, the Supreme Court had stayed till further orders the registration of FIRs, probes and coercive measures for the offence of sedition across the country until an appropriate forum of the government re-examines the colonial-era penal law. PTI ADS IJT