Delhi Riots 2020: HC denies bail to accused in UAPA case

The violence had erupted during the protests against the CAA and NRC.

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court has refused to grant bail to an accused in a UAPA case linked to the alleged larger conspiracy behind the 2020 communal riots here, saying a violent public demonstration goes beyond the constitutional right to protest and becomes an offence punishable under law.

A bench headed by Justice Suresh Kumar Kait, in its order uploaded on Tuesday, said there was enough material to indicate that the accused Salim Malik, who allegedly instigated the locals in the name of religion to destroy harmony, was a co-conspirator in a “deep-rooted conspiracy”.

The court observed that “secular names/Hindu names” were given to protest sites to give them a secular colour, and the objective of the conspirators was to escalate protests to “chakka jam” and lead the mobilised crowd to indulge in violence.

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“In the meetings dated 20/21.02.2020 at Chand Bagh and again on 22/23.02.2020, which were attended by the appellant along with other accused, the aspects related to riot-like violence and burning of Delhi, were openly discussed which is not acceptable in any democratic nation.

“There were also talks of finances, arranging arms, procuring of petrol bombs for killing of people and arsoning of property and destruction of CCTV installed in the area,” observed the bench also comprising Justice Manoj Jain.

“The perpetrators and conspirators of such riots had learnt a lesson from the riots which had earlier taken place in December, 2019 which were having similar characteristics and modus operandi, albeit on a lower scale. The objective of the conspirators was to escalate protests to chakka jam and once crowd in large number was mobilized, lead and incite them against the police and others,” the court added in its order passed on April 22.

On the basis of the factual matrix and the statements of the witnesses, the court opined that the accusation against the accused made out a “prima facie true” case against him, which attracted the embargo on bail created under Section 43-D(5) of UAPA.

Sharjeel Imam, United Against Hate founder Khalid Saifi and several others, including Umar Khalid and the present accused, have been booked under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and provisions of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly being the “masterminds” of the February 2020 riots in North-East Delhi which left 53 people dead and over 700 injured.

The violence had erupted during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Before the high court, Malik, arrested in June 2020 in the present UAPA FIR, challenged an October 2022 order passed by the trial court, which denied him bail in the FIR.

Senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for the appellant accused, contended that no case under the UAPA was made out against him.

It was argued that the appellant was merely a cook who had been given the responsibility to oversee the kitchen at the back stage and was not involved in instigating the protestors.

Special public prosecutor Amit Prasad, however, alleged that the appellant, a resident of Chand Bagh, actively participated in the riots and was part of unlawful assembly which culminated into riots, killings and injuries to public at large and several police officials on duty.

It was alleged that on February 23, 2020, the appellant, along with the other protestors, had blocked the road that was the place of violence at Jafrabad.

As per the statement of a protected witness, the accused was also in-charge of either destroying or covering the CCTV cameras in the area, the court noted.

Dismissing the bail plea, the court observed that the riots were the result of a deep-rooted conspiracy which involved moving from protest site to designated location to block the main road and highways and create confrontational situations and communal violence.

It further noted that finances were arranged and utilised in organising violence which included attacking police and paramilitary forces, damaging public and private property by using petrol bombs, fire arms, deadly weapons, acid bombs, stones, chilli powder etc.

“It was observed by the apex court (in a case) that Articles 19(1)(a) and (b) give constitutional right to all citizens of freedom of speech and expression which includes carrying out public demonstration but when public demonstration becomes violent and damages the public and private properties and harm lives of people it goes beyond fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19(1) and becomes an offence punishable under law,” the court said.

The court clarified that at this initial stage when the trial court is yet to ascertain the charges, the statements of witnesses have to be taken at their face value.

“The learned Special Public Prosecutor had taken this Court to the contents of Supplementary Charge Sheet to show the manner in which the rioter, within ten minutes of dislocating/disconnecting the last CCTV camera installed in the areas of Chand Bagh and New Mustafabad area, committed atrocities, which resulted in death of Head Constable Rattan Lal and caused grievous injuries to various police personnel, including DCP Shahdara, Delhi.

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