A Delhi court on Saturday discharged student leaders Sharjeel Imam, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, and eight others in connection with the violence which broke out near Jamia Millia University in Delhi in December 2019, reported The Wire.
Additional sessions judge Arul Varma of the Saket district court said the prosecution was unable to apprehend the “actual perpetrators” but made the accused persons “scapegoats”, according to LiveLaw.
The judge noted that the prosecution had filed “ill-conceived chargesheets” in which the police arbitrarily chose to array “some people from the protesting crowd as accused and others as police witnesses”. This “cherry picking” is detrimental to the precept of fairness, the court added.
Judge Varma said, “Dissent was an extension of the fundamental right to freedom of speech”.
“It would be pertinent to underscore that dissent is nothing but an extension of the invaluable fundamental right to Freedom of Speech and Expression contained in Article 19 of the Constitution of India, subject to the restrictions contained. It is therefore a right which we are sworn to uphold,” the judge affirmed, according to Indian Express.
Stressing the need to protect the freedom to dissent, the judge further said, “When something is repugnant to our conscience, we refuse to obey it. This disobedience is constituted by duty. It becomes our duty to disobey anything that is repugnant to our conscience.”
Judge Varma also went on to quote Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud who had described dissent as a safety valve of democracy. “The destruction of spaces for questioning and dissent destroys the basis of all growth – political, economic, cultural and social. In this sense, dissent is a safety valve of democracy,” Judge Varma quoted the CJI.
He pulled up the prosecution and questioned multiple charge sheets filed into the matter. “In the present case, it has been most unusual of the police to file one chargesheet and not one but three supplementary chargesheets, with really nothing to offer. This filing of a slew of chargesheets must cease, else this juggernaut reflects something beyond mere prosecution, and would have the effect of trampling the rights of accused persons,” he observed.
The judge ruled that there was no prima facie evidence to suggest that the accused persons were part of a mob that launched violence, nor were they brandishing any weapon or throwing stones. “Surely prosecutions cannot be launched on the basis of conjectures and surmises, and chargesheets definitely cannot be filed on the basis of probabilities,” he told the police.
The court also said that the police should have gathered credible intelligence and used technology for investigation rather than making the accused persons “scapegoats” and galvanising resources to prove charges against them. “Else, it should have abstained from filing such an ill-conceived chargesheets qua persons whose role was confined only to being a part of a protest,” he added.
The case in which Imam and others were discharged is connected to the incidents of violence at Jamia Milia Islamia University in December 2019. According to LiveLaw, the FIR alleged offences of rioting and unlawful assembly and various sections of the Indian Penal Code.
However, Imam will remain in custody as he is accused in the “larger conspiracy” case related to the 2020 Delhi riots. Tanha and Zargar are also accused in the case, which invokes sections of UAPA.