Defending his discharge in a 2019 Jamia Nagar violence case, JNU student Sharjeel Imam Thursday told the Delhi High Court he only campaigned in favour of peaceful protest and ‘chakka jam’ cannot be termed a “violent method of protest”.
Imam’s stand came in his written submissions filed in response to the Delhi Police’s plea challenging the trial court order of February 4 discharging him and several others, including student activists Asif Iqbal Tanha and Safoora Zargar, in the matter.
The case concerns the violence that erupted after a clash between police and people protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the Jamia Nagar area here in December 2019.
Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma listed the case for hearing on March 23 after the investigating agency sought time on account of the ill health of one of its lawyers.
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The court asked the respondents to file their written submissions in the meantime.
It also directed that the electronic evidence, including videos, be placed on record.
The trial court had in its February 4 order discharged 11 people in the case while holding that they were made ”scapegoats” by police and that dissent has to be encouraged not stifled.
The police, in its revision petition, has said the trial court’s order is in the teeth of well settled principles of law, suffers from grave infirmities, and is perverse.
The police plea said the trial court got swayed by ”emotional and sentimental feelings” and cast aspersions on the prosecuting agency. It passed ”gravely prejudicial” and ”adverse” remarks against the prosecuting agency and the investigation, the revision petition says.
In his written submissions, Imam said shouting slogans in favour of a particular means of peaceful protest in no way portrays his participation in the violence that ensued later.
Imam was accused of instigating the riots by delivering a provocative speech at the Jamia Milia University on December 13, 2019. He continues to remain in jail as he is an accused in the larger conspiracy case of the 2020 northeast Delhi riots.
He stated the protesters had assembled in exercise of their fundamental right to assemble peacefully as guaranteed under the Constitution, and in absence of any prohibitory orders, no culpability could be attributed to him.
“In his speech at AMU on 16.12.2019, the Answering Respondent merely stated that he campaigned in favor of chakka jam as a means of protest which by no stretch of the imagination could be called a violent method of protest,” he submitted.
There is no admissible evidence against Imam to show that he shared the common object of the unlawful assembly and that “he was a victim of the violence and had no active role to play in its culmination”, he said in the written submissions.
“The Answering Respondent is not to be seen in any of the videos adduced by the Prosecution nor is there any statement recorded by the investigating agency in which he is even named much less having attributed any role to him in the commission of the alleged violence,” it stated.
The fact that violence occurred during the peaceful protest at Jamia which resulted in Sharjeel Imam breaking his glasses is not indicative of the fact that the he participated in the said violence, he has submitted.
Imam also asserted that his CDR clearly established that he had already left the place of occurrence before the assembly turned unlawful and the allegedly provocative speech was delivered much after the alleged rioting and is subject matter of another case.
“(Imam) only campaigned in favour of a means of peaceful protest, not violence. The act of shouting slogans in favour of a particular means of peaceful protest in no way portrays the participation of the Answering Respondent in the violence that ensued during the protest,” he said.
The alleged disclosure statement by Imam, the document said, was not recorded by the investigating agency in the present case and even otherwise it has got no evidentiary value.
On February 13, the high court had issued notice to Imam and others on the police plea, and clarified that the observations of the lower court would not affect further investigation in the matter or trial of any accused. Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, representing Delhi Police, has urged the high court to expunge the remarks made by the trial court, arguing that the case concerned an unlawful assembly turning violent and not the “right to dissent”.
The police said at the stage of consideration of an application for discharge, the trial court has to proceed with an assumption that the materials brought on record by the prosecution are true and not go deep into the matter as if to decide the issue of conviction.
Noting that the accused were merely present at the protest site and there was no incriminating evidence against them, the trial court had said dissent is an extension of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, subject to reasonable restrictions.
While discharging the 11 accused, the trial court had ordered framing of charges against one of them- Mohammad Ilyas. The Jamia Nagar police station had filed charge sheet under several provisions of the Indian Penal Code against Imam, Tanha, Zargar, Mohammad Qasim, Mahmood Anwar, Shahzar Raza Khan, Mohammad Abuzar, Mohammad Shoaib, Umair Ahmad, Bilal Nadeem, Chanda Yadav and Mohammad Ilyas.