New Delhi: A Delhi court has rejected bail petitions of Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal. The court said the police’s claim that the duo were part of a larger conspiracy hatched during the February riots was prima facie true.
Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat wrote two separate orders, but verbatim, on the petitions filed by Kalita and Narwal. He upheld the invocation of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against them.
In both the verdicts, the judge disagreed with Kalita and Narwal’s lawyer, Adit S. Pujari, that the offence was not covered under the definition of terror as outlined under the UAPA.
The judge said that the entire conspiracy of intentionally blocking roads to cause inconvenience and disrupt supply of essential services would fall under the definition of the anti-terror law, UAPA. “Hence, the provisions of UAPA have been rightly invoked in the present case,” he added.
He based his reasoning on chats of a WhatsApp group called the Delhi Protest Support Group (DPSG), allegedly comprising of anti-CAA activists. The police have claimed that this group had controlled and monitored all protest sites leading to the riots.
Pujari’s request to not rely on selective chats produced by the police was turned down by the judge, who said conversations can be described and analysed only at the time of trial and not bail.
Kalita & Narwal part of ‘multi-layered, deep-rooted conspiracy’
Kalita and Narwal were arrested on 23 May 2020 in connection with protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Northeast Delhi’s Jaffrabad that also witnessed communal clashes on 24 February, between protesters and supporters of the law.
As many as 53 persons died during the riots and around 200 were left injured.
Though Kalita and Narwal were granted bail a day later (on 24 May), the Delhi Police re-arrested them immediately in a separate case of attempt to murder and rioting. While they were in custody, the Delhi Police’s special cell — which registered a separate FIR to unearth the larger conspiracy behind the riots — booked the two under UAPA.
The special cell had filed its first chargesheet in the UAPA case against 15 persons, including Kalita and Narwal, on 16 September 2020. A supplementary report was submitted to the court against six remaining accused.
All the 21 accused have been charged under sections 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the UAPA. Section 15 says a person can be booked for a terrorist act if he or she does any act with intent to threaten or likely to threaten the unity, integrity, security (economic), or sovereignty of India or with intent to strike terror or likely to strike terror in the people or any section of the people in India or in any foreign country.
Clause 3 of this section includes disruption of any supplies or services essential to the life of a community in India or in any foreign country in the definition of terrorist act. Section 16 provides for punishment.
Section 17 punishes whoever raises funds for the terrorist act, while section 18 makes participating in a conspiracy to execute the act a crime, with a jail term for life as punishment.
Kalita and Narwal are the first to move court for bail in the case. Both, the police alleged, were part of a “multi-layered, multi-organisational and deep-rooted conspiracy” that led to the large-scale riots.
Special prosecutor Amit Prasad argued that Pinjra Tod supported JNU PhD scholar Sharjeel Imam, alleged to be the mastermind of the riots, and both Kalita and Narwal implemented the chakka jam, which he had conceptualised.
Conspiracy, he claimed, is proved through circumstantial evidence and it was not necessary for the accused to be present at the spot.
‘No WhatsApp messages to show accused incited violence’
Pressing for their bail, advocate Pujari argued that there cannot be an automatic presumption of guilt against the accused. He also submitted that the protests were organic and secular, while denying the charges of conspiracy.
With regard to the allegations that both women had organised red-chilli powder to be given to women protesters at Jaffrabad to attack police personnel, Pujari said there was no evidence to establish that injuries or death were related due to its use.
He accused the police of picking selective WhatsApp messages to invoke the stringent charges against Narwal and Kalita.
According to him, the chats on which the police are relying do not disclose offence of conspiracy because none of those messages prove the two had incited violence.
He also said the police did not produce video footage of cameras installed at the Jaffarabad metro station deliberately because it would have established that Kalita and Narwal were not involved in the incitement.
‘WhatsApp chats show Pinjra Tod members planned road block’
The court order takes into account anti-CAA protests that began from Jamia Millia Islamia in December 2019, refers to Imam’s speech at both Jamia and the Aligarh Muslim University, and narrates sequence of events, including demonstrations organised at Jantar Mantar by the United Against Hate group and students from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, that lead to the riots.
The judge said that WhatsApp conversations produced by the police proved inter-linkages between all accused, including Kalita and Narwal.
On Natasha’s argument that the statements of protected witnesses under section 164 were contradictory, the judge said at this stage they have to be taken at face value and their veracity will be tested at the time of cross-examination.
Even though the judge did not discuss or analyse the WhatsApp chats of DPSG, he said the messages on the group did point to the role of Pinjra Tod activists.
Messages of the relevant contemporaneous period show there was opposition to the road block plan by Pinjra Tod group and reference to a violent protest by them that had put the life of locals in danger, the judge added.
He also held that blocking of even one side of the road would amount to a complete blockage, preventing ingress and egress for the people.
“The entire conspiracy beginning from December 2019 of intentionally blocking roads to cause inconvenience and causing disrupting (sic) of supplies of services essential to the life of community of India resulting in violence with various means and then leading to the February incident with the focus being targeted blocking of roads at mixed population areas and creating panic and attack on police personnel with facade of women protesters in front and leading to riots would be covered by the definition of terrorist act,” the court noted.
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