Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam, arrested for allegedly making inflammatory speeches during the protests against CAA and NRC, told a Delhi court on Wednesday that there was nothing in his speech that caused religious animosity.
Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat was hearing a case filed against Imam for the alleged speeches given by him at two universities in 2019, where he allegedly threatened to "cut off" Assam and the rest of the Northeast from India.
He was arrested under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and for the alleged offence of sedition under the IPC and has now sought bail as well discharge in the case.
Imam has also approached the Delhi High Court seeking bail in another sedition case relating to 2019 Jamia violence.
During the proceedings, counsel for Imam said, "From the impugned speech, there is nothing which per se causes any kind of religious animosity. We cannot lose sight of the context. What Sharjeel Imam says, in relation to CAA-NRC, is that in much as it affects one community directly, what kind of support is to be elicited from the majority community."
Advocate Tanveer Ahmed Mir added, "If a person is to say in regard to a government policy which directly affects a community 'A' that people of other community 'B' should stand with them otherwise they are not supporting you, then we cannot say that that part of the speech promotes animosity between two communities."
He also apprised the judge about the recent Allahabad High Court order granting bail to Imam in a sedition case registered against him for a speech he made at Aligarh Muslim University in January 2020.
"Rest I leave to the great wisdom of the court," he told the court and concluded his argument.
Following this, ASJ Rawat reserved for December 7 the order on his applications seeking bail and discharge and directed Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad to file detailed written submissions on behalf of the State.
In the last hearing, the prosecutor told the court that violent riots took place pursuant to Imam's speech. "He tried to create anarchy by saying that there is no hope left for the Muslim community and that there is no other way left," Prasad had said.
The alleged inflammatory speeches for which he was arrested were allegedly made at Jamia Millia Islamia on December 13, 2019, and at Aligarh Muslim University on December 16, 2019. He is in judicial custody since January 2020.
Imam is accused of offenses relating to sedition, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, imputations prejudicial to national integration, and public mischief under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and indulging in unlawful activities under the UAPA.
Delhi Police had filed a charge sheet against Imam in the case, in which it alleged that he allegedly gave speeches inciting hatred, contempt, and disaffection towards the Central Government and instigated the people which led to the violence in December 2019.
Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court Wednesday asked the police to reply on a plea by JNU student Sharjeel Imam, arrested in a sedition case for allegedly delivering an inflammatory speech and inciting violence during the CAA-NRC protests in 2019.
Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar issued notice to the prosecution and asked it to file a reply to the bail plea while listing the matter for further hearing on February 11 next year.
Imam, represented by senior advocate Sanjay R Hegde, challenged the trial court's October 22 order by which his bail plea was dismissed.
The prosecution was represented through Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad.
Imam, 32, submitted that all the co-accused, who were arrested for allegedly causing the violence, have been granted bail in the case while he was still incarcerated for over 20 months now.
"Even after admitting that the evidence relied upon by the prosecution is ‘sketchy' and all the co-accused... having been enlarged on bail, the applicant was not granted bail by the (trial) court," the plea said.
It said Imam has not been named in the FIR and has no connection to any of the events mentioned in the FIR and alleged that he had been arrested by the investigating agency as part of a targeted campaign to have multiple FIRs and investigations against him at the same time.
"Till date the prosecution has not been able to furnish the requisite sanction mandated under Section 196 CrPC to prosecute the applicant (Imam) for the offences punishable under Section 124A (sedition) of IPC in the present FIR," the plea said.
The trial court had denied him bail saying free speech cannot be exercised at the cost of communal peace and harmony.
According to the prosecution, on December 13, 2019, Imam had allegedly delivered a provocative speech which resulted in riots two days later when a mob consisting of over 3,000 people attacked police personnel and torched several vehicles in the Jamia Nagar area in south Delhi.
The trial court had said that the evidence in support of the allegations that the rioters got instigated by Imam's speech and thereafter indulged in the acts of rioting, mischief, attacking the police party, was scanty and sketchy.
It had said however that a cursory and plain reading of the speech showed it was clearly on communal lines.
"The tone and tenor of the incendiary speech tend to have a debilitating effect upon public tranquillity, peace, and harmony of the society," the trial court had said, adding that "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."
Delhi Police had claimed that Imam instigated a "particular religious community" against the Central Government by creating unfounded fears in their minds regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Besides this case, Imam is also accused of being the "mastermind" of the February 2020 riots, which had left 53 people dead and over 700 injured. He has been booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).