Rejecting Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam's plea, the high court in New Delhi on Monday said that the trial court order refusing to stay its proceedings in a 2020 Northeast Delhi riots case against him involving allegations of sedition was “fair”.
Imam had sought his release for the time being on account of the Supreme Court keeping in abeyance Section 124A (Sedition) of IPC until the issue of its constitutionality is examined. He had also challenged the trial court order refusing to stay the ongoing proceedings in the case.
A Delhi high court bench headed by Justice Mukta Gupta disposed of Imam's appeal for stay and requested the lower court to conclude on a “short date” the examination of the witnesses on which there is no dispute between the parties.
The court deferred till January Imam's plea seeking interim bail. He was arrested in January 2020 for allegedly making an inflammatory speech and then arrested in the riots case in August that year.
The court clarified that Imam, who is facing proceedings for his alleged inflammatory speeches, would be at liberty to further cross-examine the witness related to the UAPA sanction in case the trial under 124A IPC is allowed to proceed later.
Imam's counsel objected to the cross-examination at this stage, stating that offences under the UAPA and sedition have overlapping ingredients.
“The order of the trial court is fair enough as it says that as long as prejudice is not affected, let it (the trial) go on and the only issue is about the witness who gave the sanction,” said the court.
It noted that besides sedition, the “joint trial” in the case involved the offences under Section 13 (Punishment for Unlawful Activities) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) as well as sections 153A (promoting enmity), l53B (Imputations prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (Statements conducing to public mischief) of IPC.
The bench, also comprising Justice Anish Dayal, said that the trial court had noted that out of 43 prosecution witnesses, 18 had already been examined.
Even though the trial with respect to sedition has been put in abeyance, adjudication in respect of other offences could proceed if the court concerned was of the opinion that there would be no prejudice to the accused and there was no total embargo on the continuation of trial, it said.
The court also noted that the accused as well as the prosecution agreed that in view of the direction of the apex court, certain other witnesses cannot be examined at this stage.
“Although the counsel for the appellant prays that cross-examination be deferred… We are of the concerned view that the cross-examination (pertaining to UAPA sanction) be also conducted, however, subject to the liberty to the appellant to further cross-examine him in case trial under section 124A IPC is to proceed pursuant to the decision of the Supreme Court,” the court said.
“However, (certain other) witnesses ….be not examined by the special court till the decision of the Supreme Court. With these observations, appeal (against rejection of stay on trial) is disposed of,” the court said.
“Both the parties have agreed that some of the witnesses can be examined and the next date for the examination of said witnesses is November 29.
"We request the trial court to examine the above-noted witnesses on which there is no dispute between the parties with an endeavour to conclude the examination of witness on the next date or any other short date as convenient,” it added.
Advocate Tanveer Ahmed Mir, appearing for the accused, submitted that Imam has been in custody for nearly three years now.
Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad appeared for the prosecution.
On May 11, the Supreme Court stayed till further orders any 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.
As per the prosecution, Imam had allegedly made speeches at Jamia Millia Islamia on December 13, 2019, and at Aligarh Muslim University on December 16, 2019, where he threatened to cut off Assam and the rest of the Northeast from India.
In his plea before the high court, Imam said that the trial court has “failed to recognise” that pursuant to the directions of the top court, the basis for dismissal of his earlier bail plea i.e. the charge of sedition was obviated and therefore relief must be granted to him.
Earlier this year, the trial court had ordered for framing of charges against Imam under Sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity), l53B (Imputations prejudicial to national integration), 505 (Statements conducing to public mischief) of IPC and Section 13 (Punishment for Unlawful Activities) of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.