2 Months & Counting: Hathras UAPA Accused Wait to Get Charge Sheet
“The law states that the accused must get a copy of the charge sheet ‘without delay’. Is 2 months not delay enough?”
In ‘blatant violation of the fundamental right to a fair trial’ under Section 207 of the CRPC, which mandates that a copy of the charge sheet be provided to the accused ‘without delay’, eight UAPA accused booked in the aftermath of the Hathras rape-murder case have not been supplied the copy even two months after a Mathura court took cognisance of it, The Quint has learnt.
Of the eight accused, four men, Siddique Kappan, Atiq-ur Rehman, Masood Ahmed and Alam, were booked by UP police on their way to the Dalit victim’s home in west UP, on the allegation of a “very determined design to create caste divide and disturb the law and order situation.” Of the remaining four Rauf Sharif, Firoze and Ansad Badruddin, were arrested later, while another accused Danish has not been arrested as he moved Allahabad HC against coercive action.
The men have maintained their innocence and said they were on their way as journalists to report on the matter or as activists to sympathise with them.
This violation continues despite attempts by their families and lawyers to get the court to provide them a copy of the charge sheet. “The law states the accused must get a copy of the charge sheet ‘without delay’. Is 2 months not delay enough?,” the lawyers ask.
Lawyer: ‘Worried Police Would Add or Subtract Evidence’
UP police have booked the men under Section 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups), 295 A (deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class), 124 A (sedition) of the IPC, 65 and 72 of the IT Act and 17 (punishment for raising funds for a terrorist act) and 18 (punishment for conspiracy) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Mathura-based advocate Madhuvandatt Chaturvedi, who is the lawyer for seven of the eight UAPA accused, other than Kappan, tells The Quint from Mathura:
“I have lived and worked as an advocate in these courts for 30 years. The UP Police knows the charges are not frame-worthy. They know they do not have the evidence or material to back the charges of UAPA and sedition. Therefore, they want the accused to stay in jail and the longer accused like Kappan and others spend in jail, the more the police will see it as their success.”
After the court took cognisance of the charge sheet on 3 April, the judge fixed the next date of hearing to about a month later on 1 May. “The judge issued no order stating the accused must get a copy of the charge sheet,” Chaturvedi says. In the interim he started getting worried about the police adding or deleting information to the charge sheet. “So we kept reiterating how we wanted the court to do an indexing, to ensure pages are numbered,” he said adding that this would mean the police can not hamper with the evidence submitted.
In the meanwhile, Kappan’s lawyer, Wills Mathews kept sending emails of inquiries to the official ID of the Mathura court. “We did not get any response for a month,” he said adding that whatever he got to know about the case then, was through media reports.
- Attempt 1: Inspection Application Filed
Considering how he would not get access to the charge sheet anytime soon, Chaturvedi submitted an inspection application with the concerned department of the judiciary to at least be able to see the charge sheet.
“So what happens is that the charge sheet is brought to a room, and under the supervision of an officer the lawyer can read the document, make notes but not take photos or make copies. We moved this plea hoping that we will be able to study it. But the court said that since not everyone was vaccinated, they will take a few more days.”
He says it is their right to get access, but due to one reason or another were constantly denied. “This happened till the COVID cases increased so much that the room was eventually closed,” he said.
- Attempt 2: Application Under Section 207 of CrPC Filed
Four days after moving the inspection application, Chaturvedi moved an application under Section 207 of the CrPC on 17 April.
As mentioned earlier, Section 207 reads:
In any case where the proceeding has been instituted on a police report, the Magistrate shall without delay furnish to the accused, free of cost, a copy of each of the following, including the police report (charge sheet).
“Here we submitted how despite the court taking cognisance the accused were not served a copy of the documents as required under law. “It is a fundamental legal right to be informed about the allegations against them, therefore request to provide copy to the accused,” the plea read.
Chaturvedi says that no order was passed upon hearing his plea, and only oral instructions were given. Till the next date of hearing, on 1 May, they still were not supplied with a copy of the charge sheet. “Now since 1 May, the courts have been closed. There is only one additional district judge and one magistrate, who are only listening to bail applications. The judges say that according to HC directions they can only listen to them and therefore, regular cases and pleas are pending.” Another lawyer working with Chaturvedi, Saifan Shaikh, said, “Legal rights are being blatantly violated. What justifies them being in jail for the last 2 months without knowing the charges against them? The delay is happening as they keep citing COVID as a concern or say that the concerned judge will take the matter.”
‘Gross Violation of Rights’
Chaturvedi believes it is criminal that accused are being kept in jail by blatantly ignoring provisions of the law. He says:
“On 13 May I inquired at the department where copies are made, if the complete case diary had come, but it had not and I do not think it will happen any time soon. The month of June will also just pass like this.”
Mathews says that a pandemic can be no justification for the courts to not follow the law. “We are helpless and kept in the dark. Because of this the case will not move ahead. This is a gross violation of my rights. No delay is excusable or explainable,” Mathews said.
Chaturvedi too is highly critical of the court and says, “It is a fundamental right for a person to know the charges against them. Every accused is innocent until proven guilty. If you delay something as simple as this it will compromise our ability to argue on charges and delay the trial. This person’s personal liberty is at stake.”
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