‘Delhi Police made individuals in this case as scapegoats’: Court while discharging Sharjeel Imam, Safoora Zargar & 12 others

An Additional Sessions Judge from the Saket court in Delhi, Arul Verma, discharged 11 individuals including activists Sharjeel Imam, Asif Iqbal Tanha, and Safoora Zargar in a case tied to the violence at Jamia Millia Islamia University in 2019 on Saturday.

Despite the discharge, Sharjeel Imam will still be in custody due to pending cases related to the violence in the capital in February 2020.

The Jamia Millia Islamia campus witnessed violence on December 15, 2019, as a result of student protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The Delhi Police faced accusations of excessive force, including invading the university campus, in an effort to control the demonstrations. However, the police defended their actions as a response to the alleged injury of its personnel and burning of buses by the protestors.

The court discharged the 11 individuals on Saturday and declared that the prosecution against them was handled in a “perfunctory” and “cavalier” manner.

According to Judge Verma, “The police failed to identify the actual culprits responsible for the offense but managed to implicate the individuals in this case as scapegoats.”

The judge referred to the statement made by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud in February 2020 that dissent acts as a “safety valve” for democracy. The court emphasized that dissent must be encouraged, not suppressed, but only if it is peaceful. It noted that the underlying message was clear, that dissent should be allowed.

The court said that the freedom of protesting citizens should not have been easily violated. It stressed that dissent is a manifestation of the invaluable right to freedom of speech and expression. The court underlined the importance of recognizing this fundamental right.

The court stated that no evidence of a “toolkit” was provided to demonstrate the accused individuals acted together. The mere presence of the accused at the protest site was deemed insufficient to charge them. The judge emphasized that there needed to be further proof for the individuals to be named as accused.

The court criticized the police for filing a third supplementary chargesheet in the case, just a day before the final arguments on charges were to end. The court warned that the continuous filing of chargesheets could be seen as something beyond prosecution and could infringe on the rights of the accused. The judge emphasized that this practice must stop to protect the rights of those facing charges.