On February 24, 2020, communal violence broke out in North-East Delhi after clashes between CAA supporters and protestors spiraled out of control leaving at least 53 people dead and around 200 injured. The Delhi Police Special Cell claimed that the deadly violence which lasted for approximately 72 Hours was premeditated and pre-planned. Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, and Asif Iqbal Tanha were arrested on the ground of being part of a larger conspiracy to commit offences that led to the violence and riot in North-East Delhi between 22/02/2020- 26/02/2020.
They were charged with several provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), of which UAPA charges were the most stringent. All three were charged with Section 15 (Terrorist Act), Section 17 (Punishment for Conspiracy), and Section 18 (Punishment for Conspiracy) of UAPA, the stringent anti-terror law. Delhi Police argued that the accused used Anti-CAA protests to try and disrupt the law-and-order situation, inciting violence in a bid to embarrass the Government of India. Allegations against the accused also included giving inflammatory speeches, organizing Chakka Jam, ‘instigating women to protest’, and stockpiling various articles.
Delhi Police claimed that Asif Iqbal Tanha is a close associate of Safoora Zagar, Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, and that he conspired along with others to ‘overthrow’ the government by setting up a Chakka Jam in Muslim dominated areas. Police also alleged that Tanha purchased a SIM card by using fake documents and the same was used to plan the Chakka Jam, riots, etc., and was used to create a WhatsApp group.
It was further claimed that he provided this SIM card to his co-accused Safoora Zagar for organizing further protests. After being in Judicial Custody for over a year, a 2-judge bench of the High Court of Delhi consisting of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Anup Jairam Bhambani granted bail to the accused noting that the factual allegations made against the appellant do not prima facie disclose the commission of any offence under sections 15, 17 and/or 18 of the UAPA.’
The High Court further held that since there is no prima facie case, the additional conditions, limitations, and restrictions on grants of bail under Clause 5 of Section 43D of UAPA do not apply. HC observed that ‘there is complete lack of any specific, particularised, factual allegations, that is to say allegations other than those sought to be spun by mere grandiloquence’ against Asif. The Court also noted that ‘there is no reasonably discernible basis to suspect, nor do we entertain any reasonable apprehension, that the appellant will either flee from justice; or that she will tamper with evidence..’ [In Natasha Narwal’s order].
Delhi High Court noted that the definition of a ‘terrorist act’ under Section 15 of UAPA is wide and even somewhat vague. Therefore, it seems that ‘in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the State, the line between constitutionally guaranteed Right to Protest (Article 19(1) (b)) and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred’. It strongly observed that ‘foundations of our nation stand on surer footing than to be likely to be shaken by a protest, however vicious, organized by a tribe of college students or other persons, operating as a coordination committee from the confines of a University situated in the heart of Delhi’ [In Asif Iqbal’s order].
Today (June 16), a day after the pronouncement of the orders, the Delhi Police has filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court challenging the High Court orders. Delhi High categorically objected to the High Court’s interpretation of UAPA bail provisions. The matter is yet to be listed before a bench.