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Delhi Riots: Bail for 3 UAPA Accused Activists, What About Others?

Many others including Umar Khalid and Sharjeel Imam continue to face unnerving and unrelenting incarceration.

Updated
Law
6 min read
While Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha have finally been granted bail, many others including Ishrat Jahan, Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam and Khalid Saifi continue to face unnerving and unrelenting incarceration.
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“We are constrained to express that it seems, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the state, the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred. If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy.”

This was an observation made by the Delhi High Court as they granted bail to student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, and Asif Iqbal Tanha in the main northeast Delhi riots ‘conspiracy’ case.

This case has been filed under the stringent anti-terror law – the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) – and registered under FIR 59, which deals with what the Delhi Police claims was an overarching ‘conspiracy’ behind the Delhi riots in February 2020.

Granting bail to Tanha, the court even observed that there is “absolutely nothing in the subject charge sheet, by way of any specific or particularised allegation, that would show the possible commission of a ‘terrorist act’ within the meaning of Section 15 UAPA”.

However, while Narwal, Kalita, and Tanha have finally been granted bail, many others, including Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, and Ishrat Jahan continue to face unnerving and unrelenting incarceration.

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Unceasing Incarceration

UMAR KHALID

File image of Umar Khalid.
File image of Umar Khalid.
(Photo: Altered by Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

Earlier this month, a Delhi court turned down the Delhi Police’s plea to produce Umar Khalid in handcuffs before trial courts, noting that he is neither a gangster nor a previous convict. He may have been spared the handcuffs, but the 33-year-old isn’t a free man. Arrested under the UAPA, he remains locked away in a cell in the infamous Tihar jail.

As the second wave of the pandemic ravaged the country in May, Khalid wrote a letter (published in The Print) expressing anxiety, familial longing, and a lonely battle with COVID-19 as he lay ailing in his cell “wondering helplessly what the situation at home was”.

“Life in jail is quite difficult even in normal times. I have spent the last eight months alone in a cell, locked up for over 20 hours a day on several occasions. But the ongoing health crisis has increased the difficulties of prison life manifold.”
Umar Khalid

He also criticised the UAPA, and talked about how if free, “we would have reached out to the ones in need with relief, with empathy and solidarity irrespective of their identity”.

Further, Khalid mourned the loss of co-accused Natasha Narwal’s father, and expressed anguish over how she could not be with him in the last year of his life.

Umar Khalid is an activist, and a former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). He was arrested on 14 September 2020.

KHALID SAIFI

File photo of Khalid Saifi
File photo of Khalid Saifi

(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Khalid Saif)

Along with Umar Khalid, Khalid Saifi, too, was spared handcuffs; and like him, little else.

A bail application from September 2020 states that Saifi had suffered “brutal custodial torture”. Meanwhile, The Quint, too, had reported that on first being picked up by cops on 26 February 2020, he had gone to the police station without injury. However, eight hours later, Khalid Saifi was brought to the parking lot of Karkardooma court with severe injuries.

His wife Nargis recalled her meeting with him, a day later on 27 February, at Mandoli jail. She said the wounds she could see were plenty and painful, what she could not see under the clothes she did not want to think about.

Earlier in April, Nargis had also told The Quint that her husband was showing symptoms of COVID-19, and she was petrified because he is diabetic and the jail is overcrowded.

Lamenting the condition of the jail amid the pandemic, Nargis had said: “The time bomb is ticking and it can blast anytime.”

Khalid Saifi is an activist and one of the founders of the group, United Against Hate. He has been given bail in two of the three cases against him, but continues to languish in prison over the UAPA charge.

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ISHRAT JAHAN

File photo of Ishrat Jahan
File photo of Ishrat Jahan

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Ishrat Jahan)

While Saifi was awaiting a COVID test, Ishrat Jahan was placed in quarantine in April after another accused had tested positive.

Stating that the intent behind quarantine is “everyone’s safety”, her sister Sarwer Jahan had told The Quint “but this then means that we cannot talk to her for 20 days”.

Her husband Farhan Hashmi had also pointed out that she anyway does not feel safe in the jail, and alleged that “there is constant discrimination against her from the staff, often citing her religion and the fact that she is a UAPA accused”.

“We do not know what is happening inside the jail. In December, she has been abused, attacked and her clothes torn in the past by other inmates and we had to move an urgent application. We want to be in touch with her.”
Sarwer Jahan to The Quint

Jahan was allegedly beaten up and abused by inmates in her cell in Mandoli jail in December 2020.

“Her clothes have been torn, her head smashed against the wall several times. She is being constantly abused and threatened. They are constantly extorting her to do things... to let her live peacefully. They are saying things like she has to arrange a litre of milk everyday.”
Farhan Hashmi

Her husband had said that it was the second time this had happened with her, the first being in November.

Sessions judge Amitabh Rawat from Karkardooma court had then taken notice of the episode and ordered for immediate steps to ensure her safety. Ishrat had cried throughout the hearing, her sister shared.

Ishrat Jahan, a former Congress councillor, was arrested on 26 February 2020. She has received bail in one of the two FIRs registered against her.

SHARJEEL IMAM

File photo of Sharjeel Imam
File photo of Sharjeel Imam

(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Sharjeel Imam)

On 11 June 2021, Sharjeel Imam completed 500 days in jail. Twitter was inundated with solidarity messages for him, under the hashtag ‘‘Release Sharjeel Imam.”

In a conversation with NewsClick (published in December 2020), his lawyer Ahmad Ibrahim shared that Imam spends most of their meetings debating with him over ways to prove his innocence to the judges. Sometimes, Imam even offered to write to the judges, to which Ibrahim would respond: “That is not how the judicial process works.”

On one occasion, Imam told Ibrahim that he preferred the Guwahati Central Jail (where he was lodged previously) to Tihar (where he is now), to which the lawyer asked, “Why?”

“Guwahati Jail was not a violent place. Nor was it anti-Muslim.”

Imam had also participated in a two-day hunger strike with the inmates in Guwahati, demanding the release of Akhil Gogoi, and even though the desired outcome was not attained, the strike meant there was a possibility of resolving problems through democratic methods even in jail. Shortly afterwards, however, Imam tested positive for COVID-19 and lived in the fear of dying.

“My fear was not that I would die without meeting my family. It was rather that I would not able to prove that I am not a terrorist.”
Sharjeel Imam to Ibrahim, as quoted by NewsClick

Sharjeel Imam is an activist and a JNU PhD scholar. He surrendered to the Delhi police in January 2020, amid a lookout for him after he was charged with sedition. He was also charged under the UAPA in April 2020.

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OTHER ACCUSED IN THE CASE

The other accused named in FIR 59, who continue to await trial, and justice, from the confines of their prison cells, are:

  • Meeran Haider
  • Gulfisha Fatima
  • Shafa Ur Rehman
  • Tasleem Ahmed
  • Tahir Hussain
  • Salim Malik
  • Saleem Khan
  • Athar Khan
  • Shadab Ahmed

Mohammad Faizan Khan, a sim card seller and the first UAPA accused released on regular bail (granted on 23 October 2020) had, earlier in February, told The Quint:

“Jail dozak ka trailer hai... Aap apne parivaar se baat nahi kar pa rahain... pata nahi kya hoga aapke saath har din…” (Jail is a trailer for hell... You cannot speak to your family, you do not know what can happen to you on any day.)

Safoora Zargar, an MPhil student at Jamia Millia Islamia, was granted bail on humanitarian grounds on 23 June 2020, as she was 24 weeks pregnant by then.

Applauding Kalita, Narwal, and Tanha’s bail, Zargar, on Wednesday, 16 June, tweeted that it was one of the happiest days of her life.

“Let more follow. Let justice prevail. Alhamdulillah,” she wrote.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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