A day after a Delhi court discharged Sharjeel Imam and 10 others in the 2019 Jamia Nagar violence case, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Sunday said the criminal justice system that tolerates pre-trial incarceration is an affront to the Constitution and urged the Supreme Court to put an end to this "daily abuse of the law".
A court in Delhi on Saturday discharged 11 people, including student activists Imam and Asif Iqbal Tanha, who participated in anti-CAA protests, in the 2019 Jamia Nagar violence case, saying they were made "scapegoats" by police, and that dissent has to be encouraged, not stifled.
Reacting to the development, Chidambaram tweeted, asking whether there was even prima facie evidence against the accused.
"The court's conclusion: unequivocal no. Some accused have been lodged in jail for nearly three years. Some got bail after many months.This is pre-trial incarceration," the former home minister said.
"An inept police and overzealous prosecutors are responsible for keeping citizens in jail before trial. What action will be taken against them?" Chidambaram said in a series of tweets.
Who will give back the months or years that the accused spent in jail, he asked.
"Our criminal justice system that tolerates pre-trial incarceration is an affront to the Constitution of India, especially Articles 19 and 21.The SC must put an end to this daily abuse of the law. The sooner the better," Chidambaram said.
"Bless the trial courts that push back against the abuse of the law and uphold liberty," he added.
Noting that the accused were merely present at the protest site and there was no incriminating evidence against them, the court said dissent is an extension of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, subject to reasonable restrictions.
An FIR was lodged in connection with the violence that erupted after a clash between police and people protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in the Jamia Nagar area in Delhi in December 2019.
Imam was accused of instigating the riots by delivering a provocative speech at the Jamia Millia Islamia University on December 13, 2019. He will continue to remain in jail as he is an accused in the larger conspiracy case of the 2020 northeast Delhi riots.
Additional sessions judge Arul Varma said there were admittedly scores of protesters at the site and some anti-social elements within the crowd could have created an environment of disruption and havoc.
"However, the moot question remains -- whether the accused persons herein were even prima facie complicit in taking part in that mayhem? The answer is an unequivocal no," the judge said.