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Sharjeel Imam, Co-Accused No Longer Allowed Daily Phone Calls With Family: Why?

Gulfisha Fatima and Shifa-ur-Rehman, Sharjeel's co-accused in the UAPA case, have also filed similar applications.

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On 28 January this year, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam will complete three years as an incarcerated undertrial.

An accused under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), in connection with the Delhi Riots 'Larger Conspiracy' Case, the 34-year-old is presently lodged in Delhi's Tihar jail. Until a little while ago, he was at least allowed to speak to his family on the phone on a daily basis. Now, that has been stopped.

Imam's interlocutory application filed before a Delhi court says:

"The aforementioned (inmate phone calling) facility was abruptly stopped by the jail authorities recently without any reason or providing any opportunity for the Applicant to oppose the same…It is worth mentioning that the Applicant has been informed that he will be allowed to make one call each week as against daily calling facility (one call a day) which was available till now."

It further says that this was carried out arbitrarily and without prior notice or intimation to Imam, as well as "without providing any cogent reasons for the same."

As per media reports, Imam's co-accused Gulfisha Fatima and Shifa-ur-Rehman have also filed similar applications before the court.

  • File photo of Gulfisha Fatima.

    (Photo: The Quint)

Imam's lawyer Ahmad Ibrahim told The Quint that the court has asked jail superintendents to submit conduct reports of all accused persons, and that the matter has been listed for 21 January.

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WHAT'S THE REASON FOR THE 'ABRUPT' STOP?

As per media reports, one of the Tihar jail superintendents, appearing before Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat on 2 January, placed reliance on Rule 631 of the Delhi Prison Rules, 2018, and a notification  issued in September 2022 by the Additional Inspector General (AIG), Prison HQs, Delhi Prisons, as reasons for the stop.

Rule 631 says:

Gulfisha Fatima and Shifa-ur-Rehman, Sharjeel's co-accused in the UAPA case, have also filed similar applications.

Rule 631 of the Delhi Prison Rules, 2018.

Meanwhile, the AIG's notification cites Rule 631 and also says that the Inmate Telephone Call facility should be limited to once a week for the categories of prisoners specified in Rule 631. However, it also says that even those who have been categorised under this rule and have been accruing the benefit of the regular calling facility on directions of a competent court shall continue to get the facility – but the decision is subject to the court's review.

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SO WHAT HAVE THE COUNSEL FOR THE ACCUSED ARGUED? 

Gulfisha Fatima and Shifa-ur-Rehman, Sharjeel's co-accused in the UAPA case, have also filed similar applications.

The counsel for the accused have contended that the accused may be allowed regular telephone conversations with family on several grounds. These include:

  • A letter by Superintendent, Jail Number 8, Tihar Jail, states that the Jail Superintendent concerned extended the facility to co-accused Meeran Haider after opining that Rule 631 of DPR, 2018, does not even cover UAPA

  • Rule 631 of Delhi Prison Rules imposes a twin condition for restricting the calling facility of any inmate. The twin condition entails a) offence against state, terrorist offence etc AND b) a violation of prison rules

    (Note, once again: the rule says “The prisoners who are involved in offences against the State, terrorist activities…and who are frequently involved in assaulting co-inmates in the prison shall not be eligible for this facility in the interest of public safety and order.”

  • The facility has been arbitrarily reduced without any cogent reason other than the fact that the prison authorities are enforcing the rule suddenly due to the intervention of the court when it allowed one of the accused to avail this facility

  • Even solely on humanitarian grounds, this facility can be resumed to the way it was earlier, i.e., one call a day as the court (in keeping with AIG's notification) is competent to issue directions to resume the facility

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MORE ABOUT THE CASE...

While Imam has been incarcerated since January 2020, Gulfisha Fatima and Shifa-ur-Rehman have been in prison since April of that year. All of them are still awaiting trial in the UAPA case.

The Delhi High Court is presently hearing Imam' bail plea. Fatima and Rehman's bail applications are also pending.

Recently, the same court denied bail to co-accused Umar Khalid and also made observations against Imam in the order. The Supreme Court eventually had to clarify that the remarks made by the Delhi High Court while denying bail to Khalid will not prejudice Imam's case. 

(With inputs from LiveLaw and The Indian Express.)

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