A Delhi court on Friday denied bail to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam in the sedition case registered against him in connection with his December 2019 speech made during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Additional Sessions Judge Anuj Agarwal said that the speech delivered by Imam at Jamia Milia University on December 13, 2019 was clearly on communal/divisive lines and could affect peace and harmony in the society.
“A cursory and plain reading of the speech dated 13.12.2019 reveals that same is clearly on communal/divisive lines. In my view, the tone and tenor of the incendiary speech tend to have a debilitating effect upon public tranquility, peace and harmony of the society,” the Court said.
The fundamental right of free speech and expression is placed at a high pedestal by our Constitution, but it cannot be cannot be exercised at the cost of communal peace and harmony of the society, the Court underscored while denying him bail.
“That apart, article 51A(e) of the Constitution also casts a fundamental duty upon citizens of this country to promote harmony and spread common brotherhood amongst all the people of India, transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities. Therefore, 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,” it added.
Was Sharjeel Imam Speech Seditious?
As far as the question of Imam’s purported speech being seditious goes, the Court felt it required a “deeper analysis” at an appropriate stage.
Earlier, the Court prima facie noted the evidence in support of the allegations with regards to the rioters being instigated by Imam’s speech of December 13, 2019 giving rise to rioting, mischief, attacking the police party etc to be “scanty and sketchy”.
“Neither any eye witness has been cited by prosecution nor there is any other evidence on record to suggest that co-accused got instigated and committed the alleged act of rioting etc upon hearing the speech of applicant/accused Sharjeel Imam,” the order stated.
Further, there was also stated to be no evidence corroborating the version of prosecution that alleged rioters were a part of the audience addressed by Imam on the same day.
The court also observed that there was no material available with the prosecution to show that Imam and other co-accused persons were members of any common social platform to fasten them with the aid of abetment.
“The essential link between the speech dated 13.12.2019 and the subsequent acts of co-accused is conspicuously missing in the instant case,” the order highlighted.
The court also highlighted the “gaping holes” in the theory of the investigating agency that portray an “incomplete picture”. The gaps were filled by resorting to “surmises and conjectures” or by essentially relying upon the disclosure statements of Iman and the co-accused.
The court noted that the prosecution version is based on imagination or upon inadmissible confession before a police officer and have no basis.
“In either case, it is not legally permissible to build the edifice of prosecution version upon the foundation of imagination or upon inadmissible confession before a police officer. Once the legally impermissible foundation of imaginative thinking and disclosure statement of accused/co-accused is removed, the prosecution version on this count appears to be crumbling like a house of cards,” The court added.
Imam was accused of giving provocative speeches on December 13, 15 in 2019 and January 16, 2020 that were alleged to have culminated into riots at several places. The present case dealt with speech on December 13, 2019 where he was alleged to have been seen instigating a particular religious community against the government by creating unfounded fears in their minds regarding Citizenship Amendment Bill (at the relevant time) and National Register of Citizens.
He was accordingly chargesheeted under section 124A (sedition) and 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) of the Indian Penal Code.
Imam is also facing cases pertaining to northeast Delhi violence of February, 2020, and is currently in jail.