"This is very unfortunate. Nothing (no evidence) is there against Umar. We will definitely be approaching the Supreme Court to seek bail for him now."
Dismissing the bail plea, a bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar said:
"We don't find any merit in the bail appeal."
Khalid has been charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and has spent over 700 days in prison so far. The order comes over a month after the bench reserved its decision on 9 September.
What Did the Court Say?
The high court, in its judgment observed that the protests against the Citizenship Amendement Act, 2019 (CAA) and the 2020 North-East Delhi Riots seem prima facie to have been orchestrated at “conspirational meetings” between December 2019 and February 2020 — some of which were allegedly attended by Khalid.
"Admittedly these protests metamorphosed into violent riots in February 2020, which began by firstly choking public roads, then violently and designedly attacking policemen and random members of the public, whereat firearms, acid bottles, stones etc. were used, resulting in the admitted and sad loss of 53 precious lives and the destruction of property worth several Crores,” the court also said in its order.
Further, the court said that the protest was “not a typical protest” but more destructive and injurious than that.
With regard to Umar Khalid, the bench of Justices Mridul and Bhatnagar said:
"The manner in which the administration initially rejected permission for the appellant's (Amravati) speech and thereafter how the speech came to be delivered clandestinely on that very day (17 February) is something which gives credibility to the accusation of the prosecution. Further, the CCTV footages filed along with the charge sheet, its analysis and the flurry of calls amongst the appellant and other co-accused after the riots of 24th of February, 2020 also merits consideration in the background of various meetings, statements of various protected witnesses and the WhatsApp chats filed in the charge sheet.”
The bench went on to say that Section 15 of the UAPA covers not just intent to threaten unity and integrity, but the likelihood of the same
“It may be reminded that under the UAPA, it is not just the intent to threaten the unity and integrity but the likelihood to threaten the unity and integrity…”
What Had Umar Khalid's Lawyer Argued?
Over several hearings at the Delhi High Court, Senior Advocate Trideep Pais, appearing for Khalid, made an array of submissions, including the point that Khalid had no "criminal role" in the Delhi Riots, nor did he have any "conspirational connect" with the other accused in the matter.
The arguments in favour of bail for Khalid include:
Prosecution was "making stuff up as it went along," the Delhi Police chargesheet was rife with inconsistencies and parts of it were without basis
The prosecution has nothing to show that there was a "meeting of minds" for committing a crime
The conspiracy alleged by the prosecution should pertain to the violence that ensued in Delhi, and not "raising issues of injustice" as there was nothing illegal in raising such issues
Khalid's Amravati speech, which the Delhi Police alleges he was "desperate to give" and which forms the basis of the allegations against him, categorically called for non violence and did not lead to violence anywhere
Pais also asked the court if "opposition to scrapping of Article 370 or triple talaq or CAA (is) illegal in itself?"
Responding to prosecution's claim that that Khalid was part of five contentious WhatsApp groups, Pais submitted mere membership in Whatsapp groups (that have been named by them) does not make Khalid criminally liable.
Further, Pais said that Khalid remained silent in two such groups, and in the remaining groups, as well, only four messages could be attributed to Khalid. These four too neither incited nor called for riots, Pais pointed out.
What Were the Prosecution's Claims?
Defending the trial court's order denying bail to Umar Khalid, Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad said that the trial court has dealt with every recorded evidence and said that it will not deal with infirmities at this stage.
The trial court had reportedly taken the view that Khalid was connected to many accused and his presence in several WhatsApp groups had to be viewed in totality.
Further, the prosecution reportedly alleged:
Speeches made by various accused carried a "common factor," the essence of which was to create a sense of fear in the Muslim population
Umar Khalid's Amravati speech was a "calculated speech" because not only did it refer to CAA and NRC, but also other issues specifically pertaining to one community
The prosecution also went on to claim that the sit-in protest sites were planned and situated in close proximity to masjids and that the Shaheen Bagh protest was neither an independent movement nor driven only by women protesters.
More About the Case
Umar Khalid has been booked under Sections 13, 16, 17, 18 of the UAPA, Sections 25 and 27 of the Arms Act and Section 3 and 4 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act,1984.
Find more details of the Delhi High Court's hearing in Umar Khalid's bail plea here.
(With inputs from Meghnad Bose.)