Imam has sought bail citing the Supreme Court's order to keep in abeyance proceedings in all sedition cases in the country.
Sharjeel Imam. File Pic
The Delhi High Court said it will hear on May 26 a plea by JNU student Sharjeel Imam, who has been arrested in a case related to alleged inflammatory speeches made by him during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens in 2019, seeking interim bail. Imam has sought bail citing the Supreme Court's order to keep in abeyance proceedings in all sedition cases in the country.
As a bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar did not assemble on Tuesday, the application has been listed for hearing next week. Imam has filed an application seeking interim bail in his already pending bail plea.
The application, filed through advocates Talib Mustafa, Ahmad Ibrahim, and Kartik Venu, said the trial court's order rejecting his bail is primarily based on the premise that the special court had no power to grant bail under Section 437 of the CrPC in view of the limitations imposed therein, once the court had by a separate order, sought it fit to frame sedition charges against Imam.
"In view of the Supreme Court's directions, the hindrance raised by the special court in the impugned order stands obviated, and observations surrounding the offence under section 124A (punishment for sedition) IPC cannot be taken into consideration in the proceedings against the appellant (Imam) pending the final outcome of the constitutional challenges to the section. Dehors the issue of Section 124-A IPC, the case against the appellant stands significantly diluted and improves his case for securing bail," the plea said.
It said Imam has been incarcerated for nearly 28 months whereas the maximum punishment for the offences, not including 124A IPC, is punishable up to a maximum of seven years of imprisonment. It added that the continued incarceration of Imam is unsustainable and warrants the interference of this court. On May 11, the Supreme Court had stayed till further orders on the registration of FIRs, probes, and the coercive measures for the offence of sedition across the country by the Centre and the states until an appropriate forum of the government re-examines the colonial-era penal law.
The top court had taken note of the concerns of the Centre and said the ¿rigours of Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC is not in tune with the current social milieu¿ and permitted reconsideration of the provision. It had extended the interim orders, granting relief to the accused of the offence of sedition. Any affected party was at liberty to approach courts concerned which are requested to examine reliefs sought taking into consideration the present order, the apex court had said. All pending cases, appeals, and proceedings concerning the provision of sedition would be kept at abeyance and the adjudication of other offences, if any, could proceed, it had said. According to the prosecution, Imam had allegedly made speeches at Jamia Millia Islamia on December 13, 2019, and at the Aligarh Muslim University on December 16, 2019, where he threatened to cut off Assam and the rest of the Northeast from India.
Imam, who has been charged with section 124A of the IPC which entails life imprisonment, has approached the high court challenging a trial court's January 24 order denying him bail in the case. Imam's counsel has said he has been in custody for the last over two years and there was no likelihood of the trial getting over in the near future as there were more than 170 witnesses to be examined and the trial has not even started yet. The bail plea said the instant FIR was registered against Imam on January 25, 2020, simultaneously with four other FIRs across multiple states for the same speeches attributed to him. The instant FIR was originally registered for the offences punishable under sections 124A (punishment for sedition, 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence), 153B (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505(2) (Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the IPC and later section 13 (punishment for unlawful activities) of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) was added.
Subsequently, Imam was arrested in this case from Bihar on January 28, 2020, and was remanded to police custody for eight days and has been in continuous judicial custody since then. He is also one of the accused in the 2020 Delhi riots conspiracy case. The prosecution has claimed that his speeches incited hatred, contempt, and disaffection towards the Central Government and instigated the people which led to the violence in December 2019.
"In the garb of CAA, he (Imam) exhorted people of a particular community to block highways leading to major cities and resort to 'chakka jaam'. Also, in the name of opposing CAA, he openly threatened to cut off Assam and other Northeastern states from the rest of the country," the Delhi Police's charge sheet has stated. In his defence, Imam had earlier told the court that he is not a terrorist and his prosecution is a ¿whip of a monarch rather than a government established by law¿. The prosecution claimed that violent riots took place pursuant to Imam's speech.
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