"In Its Anxiety To Suppress Dissent, In The Mind Of State, Line Between Right To Protest And Terrorist Activity Seems To Be Getting Blurred": Delhi HC In Natasha Narwal's Bail Order
"We are constrained to express, that it seems, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the State, the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred" observed the Delhi High Court while granting bail to Natasha Narwal in the Delhi Riots larger conspiracy case involving sections under the UAPA.A...
"We are constrained to express, that it seems, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the State, the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred" observed the Delhi High Court while granting bail to Natasha Narwal in the Delhi Riots larger conspiracy case involving sections under the UAPA.
A division bench comprising of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Anup J. Bhambhani also observed that "If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy."
Narwal, a student pursuing MPhil-Ph.D. Programme from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, had been accused of various offences under the Indian Penal Code as well as the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in connection with the North East Delhi riots that broke out in the national capital last year.
It was alleged that Natasha was involved in instigating the local population in certain Muslim dominated areas in Delhi, particularly women, to protest against CAA and NRC by allegedly seeking to incite feelings of persecution. Furthermore, it was also alleged that being part of Pinjira Tod, Delhi Protests Support Group and the Jamia Coordination Committee, she had participated in a so-called larger conspiracy in causing the riots.
On the aspect of her being part of the aforesaid groups, the High Court observed thus:
"We find that a common thread that runs through the reasoning adopted by the learned Special Court when appreciating the material against the appellant, is that the appellant was a member of Pinjra Tod, DPSG, Warriors and Auraton ka Inquilab and was 'part of a multi-layered conspiracy and in regular touch and reporting to the higher conspirators', which makes her actions culpable."
The Court also observed that merely because an independent review of the evidence gathered may have been undertaken by an independent authority and the Central Government may have accorded sanction for prosecution for offences under the UAPA, "does not in any manner imply that the court need not apply its own mind to form its own judicial view as to whether any offence under the UAPA is disclosed in the charge-sheet and the material placed alongwith it."
On the aspect of exercising the Right to Protest, the Court observed that the Government may prohibit public meetings, demonstrations or protests on streets or highways to avoid nuisance or disturbance of traffic "but the Government cannot close all streets or open areas for public meetings thereby defeating the fundamental right that flows from Article 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of the Constitution."
In view of this, the Court said:
"What we know is that offences, if any, that are alleged to have been committed by reason of the protests having been turned non-peaceful, are subject matter of FIR Nos. 48/2020 and 50/2020, in which the appellant is one of the accused and in which the appellant has been admitted to bail and will face trial in due course. There is absolutely nothing in the subject charge-sheet, by way of any specific or particularised allegation, that would show the possible commission of a 'terrorist act' within the meaning of section 15 UAPA; or an act of 'raising funds' to commit a terrorist act under section 17; or an act of 'conspiracy' to commit or an 'act preparatory' to commit, a terrorist act within the meaning of section 18 UAPA. Accordingly, prima-facie we are unable to discern in the subject charge-sheet the elemental factual ingredients that are a must to found any of the offences defined under section 15, 17 or 18 UAPA."
Furthermore, it said:
"Allegations relating to inflammatory speeches, organising of chakka jaam, instigating women to protest and to stock-pile various articles and other similar allegations, in our view, at worst, are evidence that the appellant participated in organising protests, but we can discern no specific or particularised allegation, much less any material to bear- out the allegation, that the appellant incited violence, what to talk of committing a terrorist act or a conspiracy or act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act as understood in the UAPA."
In view of this, the Court granted bail to Natasha Narwal subject to her furnishing a personal bond in the sum of Rs. 50,000 with two local sureties in the like amount.
"In our considered opinion, keeping in view the background, profile and position of the appellant, 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; or that she will intimidate witnesses or otherwise attempt to frustrate trial." The Court observed at the outset.
Title: NATASHA NARWAL v. STATE OF DELHI NCT