How a Hearing of Sharjeel Imam's Assault Application Unfolded, What Did He Say?
In reply to a question by The Quint's reporter, Sharjeel said: "I'm fine, at least as fine as one can be in jail”.
Sharjeel Imam, a UAPA accused in the Delhi Riots ‘Conspiracy’ case, is not, by any stretch of imagination, a towering figure. Watching him under the glare of tube lights at a Karkardooma courtroom, where I went to cover a hearing on Tuesday afternoon, 17 August, I noticed that he does not even look his age – 34.
This could be because of his physical attributes or how he fidgets restlessly, childishly, rubbing his chin, scratching his face. Or it could be because time stopped moving for him when he was incarcerated over 900 days ago.
I watched him standing behind the wooden kathghara, from the second row of seats in the court room. The judge wasn’t there yet, and Imam was talking expressively with his lawyer – seemingly a serious conversation, but not without a tinge of light-heartedness.
He seemed happy to be with his lawyer. I think I even saw a polite smile on his lips as he nodded in greeting at the prison superintendent. From a man, about to complete a thousand days in jail, a clueless observer would expect bitterness. But Imam just looked like a boy who had a lot to say.
While waiting for the hearing to begin, I had also taken a leap of faith and walked towards where he was standing. I only got the time to get two questions in before the policemen who had flanked him, but not too closely, intruded. They instructed me to return to my seat, and I did as I was told. But Imam did tell me before I was shooed off:
"I am fine, at least as fine as one can be in jail.”
What Was the Hearing About?
The matter before the court is of an assault application filed by Sharjeel’s lawyers. They have claimed that their client was assaulted in jail, after a group of convicts barged in on the pretext of a search. They also allege that Sharjeel was dubbed ‘terrorist’ and ‘anti-national’ and some of his books and clothes were thrown away.
The prison authorities have denied all of the allegations, and have in turn accused Imam of misbehaving with staff and breaching prison rules.
“The jail authorities issued a punishment against the accused for breaching jail rules,” the affidavit, signed by the superintendent of Central Jail Number 1, Tihar, goes on to say.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Imam, on the other hand, claimed before Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat:
“They entered my cell. Then they threw my clothes...When I ran towards the assistant superintendent...they surround me and slapped me.”
How a Watch Comes into the Picture
The law officer, appearing for the prison authorities, meanwhile, alleged before the court that Imam’s watch – a “prohibited” item – was recovered from his cell, and that’s why he resorted to such “hue and cry.”
But Imam, on the other hand, said that his watch is not in the list of prohibited items. His lawyer Ahmad Ibrahim too informed The Quint that the watch is a restricted item (not prohibited) and he had received permission from the erstwhile superintendent of the jail to keep it. The only problem, his lawyer shared, was that the permission slip had been misplaced in one of the several books in Imam’s cell.
Meanwhile, Imam told the court: “I don’t mind their taking of my watch…issue is the (manner of the) search was illegal.”
Further, during a previous hearing of the matter, a CCTV footage of the said incident was played before the court. According to Imam’s counsel, the footage makes it sufficiently clear that everything stated by them in their application is true.
“Still, if they (the prison authorities) withdraw the affidavit, we will also not press our application," Advocate Talib Mustafa, who is also representing Imam, told The Quint.
According to Advocate Ahmad Ibrahim, the convicts who are alleged to have carried out the assault have already been punished by prison authorities. So, now, all they want at this point is for the authorities to:
: “An undertrial has the same rights as anyone else. Today they have slapped him, tomorrow they might do something more serious. So such instances have to be curtailed, and not just for Sharjeel, but for everyone in the jail,” Ibrahim told The Quint.
: “If they don’t do that then we will be compelled to pursue a case of false affidavit against them, as everything becomes clear from the cctv footage,” Ibrahim further said.
“Because everything in the jail goes in his record and is incorporated in his nominal roll.”
On Allegations of Bid To Secure Bail
The prison authorities have also alleged that Imam’s claim of assault may be a part of an extended bid to secure bail.
On being asked about this specific aspersion, Ibrahim said:
“We have never argued bail on any of these grounds. This is not the first time that Imam has been harassed inside the jail. Had it been our intention we would have raised it in our previous bail applications too.”
“Three bail applications have been filed at this court only, and all on merit. The judge can verify that.”
“We know very well what the bail jurisprudence is. We know on what grounds bail can and cannot be granted. So this is certainly not for bail."Advocate Ahmad Ibrahim
A Little About Bail Under UAPA
It may be worth mentioning that Section 43D(5) of the UAPA says that those accused of terror offences under the Act cannot be released on bail if the court "is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accusation against such person is prima facie true."
Thus, this provision of the UAPA, makes grant of bail virtually impossible in terror-related cases.
This is because it requires a court to assess the guilt of an accused by merely looking at the police's version in the case diary or charge sheet, and deny bail to the accused if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the case against the accused is prima facie true.
Sharjeel has been denied bail by the additional sessions judge thrice already.
The assault application has been listed for further hearing on 1 September at 2 pm. Sharjeel Imam is to be produced before the court again on that day. Meanwhile, he spends his free time reading in his cell, which his lawyer says is stacked with books.
The last book Imam read was by India’s first education minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. I asked him which one it was, in our nearly thirty-second long conversation on Tuesday, but I could not hear his response clearly over the rumbles of policemen’s protestations.
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