Quashing the FIRs filed against 29 foreign Tablighi Jamaat members, the Bombay High Court, in a strongly-worded judgment said that they may have been used as "scapegoats", reported LiveLaw.
The foreign nationals were booked under various provisions of IPC for violating their tourist visa conditions by attending the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Nizamuddin area of New Delhi.
Along with these nationals, police also booked six Indian nationals and trustees of the mosques for giving shelter to the petitioners.
Petitioners were booked under the Indian Penal Code for the offences of disobeying public orders promulgated by public servants (section 188), negligent acts likely to spread dangerous diseases (section 269), malignant acts likely to spread dangerous diseases (section 270) and public nuisance (section 290)
They were also booked under various provisions of the Maharasthra Police Act, 1951 Maharasthra Covid-19 Measures and Rules, 2020, Epidemic Diseases Act ,1897, Foreigners Act,1946 and the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
A division bench of Justice TV Nalawade and Justice MG Sewlikar of the Aurangabad bench heard three separate petitions. The Police claim to have been presented with secret information about them inhabiting different areas of the mosques in question and offering prayers in violation of the lockdown.
The petitioners claim they came to India on a valid visa issued by the Government of India and had come to experience Indian culture and traditions. They argue that they had been tested and screened at the airport on arrival for COVID-19 and were only allowed to leave when they tested negative.
Due to the lockdown imposed, hotels were shut and the Masjid gave them shelter. They contend to have followed social distancing at the Markaz and not engaged in any illegal activity, contrary to the findings of the district collector.
The District Superintendent of Police, Ahmednagar replied arguing that petitioners were visiting places and preaching Islam. He also said give foreign nationals were infected by the virus.
Observations of the Court
Justice Nalawade noted, after hearing the petitioners that:
1) According to the Foreign Visa Manual, there is no restriction on foreigners visiting religious places and attending normal religious activities.
2) He also observed the Tablighi Jamaat is not a separate sect of Muslim, but is only a reformation movement for religion. From the record it can’t be observed that they were spreading Islamic ideas and engaging in persuading people to convert to Islam. The allegations of them speaking in Arabic, French as a way of spreading Islamic ideas is also vague according him.
3) He also criticised the media’s portrayal of foreign nationals who attended the Tablighi Jamaat, stating “There was big propaganda created in print and electronic media against these foreigners. It was virtually persecution against them.”
During the situation created by COVID-19 pandemic we need to be more tolerant and show more tolerance and need to be more sensitive towards our guests particularly like the present petitioners.Justice Nalawade
Background of Malice
Also referring to the CAA And NRC protests, the court stated that fear was created in the minds of Muslims that action can be taken against them for anything, in any form. The court claimed that there is a smell of malice to the action taken against foreigners and Muslims for their alleged activities.
The court concluded that the state government acted under political compulsion and action against the foreign nationals can be categorized as malice. All petitions were allowed and FIRs were quashed. Justice Sewlikar concurred with the judgement and noted that the state’s request to allow a stay cannot be allowed.