Delhi High Court: Protest is Fundamental Right, Cannot Book People under UAPA

People throwing stones during Delhi Riots

Delhi high court granted bail to Asif Iqbal Tanha, Natasha Narwal, and Devangana Kalita in the Delhi riots conspiracy case. Court did not find any prima facie case against them under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). 

The Delhi police had filed a case against them for involving in a larger conspiracy that led to communal riots in North East Delhi in the last week of February.

All of them had spent an entire year in Tihar jail. They did not get interim bail as they were booked under UAPA. Natasha Narwhal was released on interim bail for three weeks after her father’s death to perform rituals.

A division bench of the Delhi high court comprising Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambhani observed that prima facia, the charges of involvement in terrorist activities could not be made against the accused under UAPA. 

Delhi High Court said there is nothing serious in the charge sheet that would show that they were involved in terrorist acts, no evidence of providing money or weapons were recovered by police. 

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The court noted the accused were only involved in mobilizing people for coming people in CAA protest and organizing chakka jam. The court observed Asif Iqbal was only charged with providing a sim card to another conspirator to form what’s app group regarding the CAA protest.

The UAPA should be applied only when there is a threat to the nation’s defense, not in cases where customary penal laws can be applied. Court said even if we assume the protest had crossed the constitution’s limits, it will not amount to terrorist acts under UAPA. 

Foisting grave penal provisions engrafted in sections 15, 17, and 18 UAPA frivolously upon people would undermine the intent and purpose of the Parliament in enacting a law that is meant to address threats to the very existence of our Nation,” said High court.

Supreme Court court observed the right to protest could not be termed a terrorist act within the meaning of UAPA unless the ingredients of the offenses under sections 15, 17, and/or 18 of the UAPA are satisfied. 

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Court further observed, “The phrase ‘terrorist act’ cannot be permitted to be applied in a cavalier manner to criminal acts or omissions that fall squarely within the definition of conventional offenses as defined among other things under the IPC.

Prosecutors contented their acts are likely to strike terror’ which is covered under section 15 of UAPA.

Replying to the argument court said, “Having given our anxious consideration to this aspect of ‘likelihood’ of threat and terror, we are of the view that the 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.”

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