On Monday, 19 October, a Metropolitan Magistrate court in Andheri, Mumbai, acquitted 20 foreign nationals who had been charged for not disclosing they had attended the Tablighi Jamaat gathering at Nizamuddin in New Delhi in February.
The group included 10 people from Indonesia and 10 from Kyrgyzstan. They had been booked separately by the DM Nagar Police after receiving identical information from an informant about both groups arriving in Mumbai after attending the Tablighi meet in Delhi, and then they allegedly “visited various places and persons and spread the infection.” They were also claimed to have violated lockdown norms and orders of the Police Commissioner.
However, the court found that the entire case was baseless as the prosecution had failed to prove anything in support of the charge under Sections 37 and 135 of the Bombay Police Act, of violating police orders.
“Thus there is no iota of evidence with prosecution to show any contravention of order by accused persons beyond all shadow of doubt. During imposition of lockdown and their ultimate shelter in mosque or nearby will not render them responsible for such contravention.”Orders of Metropolitan Magistrate RR Khan
The 20 foreign nationals had originally been booked by the Mumbai Police under a bizarre set of extremely serious IPC provisions, including attempt to murder and homicide not amounting to murder. A Sessions Court had discharged them of these charges.
On consideration of the chargesheet, the Metropolitan Magistrate had also struck off other charges such as Sections 188 (disobedience of order of public servant), 269 and 270 (acts likely to spread infection of dangerous disease) of the Indian Penal Code along with sections of the Foreigners Act, the Epidemic Diseases Act, and the Disaster Management Act.
The trial had then proceeded for violation of lockdown orders, and failure to disclose that they had attended the Tablighi Jamaat event in Nizamuddin, over which a large-scale media witch-hunt had been orchestrated – the Bombay High Court had already passed strong comments about this in two previous cases.
During the trial, the prosecution had failed to provide any evidence of the claim that the accused had violated lockdown orders, as there was no proof even from the prosecution’s witnesses that the accused had created any assembly or actually stepped out of the masjid where they were staying.
On the final issue of not coming forward to disclose their attendance of the Markaz event, the court found that this charge was also not substantiated, as the prosecution had failed to show – as required by high court precedent – that the order for people to come forward had been properly published and promulgated, including by display in prominent places in the city.
“Keeping in view the above judicial ratios, evidence on record and facts and circumstances of the matter, it is clear that the order in question was neither publicly promulgated nor brought into notice of the accused persons,” the order goes on to say.