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[Sedition] 'If Criticism Will Die, Society Will Die': Sharjeel Imam Seeks Bail In Delhi Riots Case

Nupur Thapliyal
23 Aug 2021 9:10 AM GMT
[Sedition] If Criticism Will Die, Society Will Die: Sharjeel Imam Seeks Bail In Delhi Riots Case
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A Delhi Court today continued hearing the bail application filed by Sharjeel Imam in relation to the speeches made by him in Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia area in Delhi against the Citizenship Amendment Act."There is nothing in the speech which called for any kind of violence" his counsel Advocate Tanveer Ahmed Mir argued, thereby claiming that the offence of Sedition is not made...

A Delhi Court today continued hearing the bail application filed by Sharjeel Imam in relation to the speeches made by him in Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia area in Delhi against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

"There is nothing in the speech which called for any kind of violence" his counsel Advocate Tanveer Ahmed Mir argued, thereby claiming that the offence of Sedition is not made against Imam.

He also emphasized that the speech was made amid a group of scholars as part of an "intellectual debate" and he cannot be prosecuted merely for holding a viewpoint which is different from that of the Government.

"Critical elements in our society are also necessary because in a society where criticism will die, the society will die. That is why, ultimately, the flag to uphold the constitution in a democracy securely lies in your honours' hands...Courageous men in this country will not be slapped with sedition. This is what our solemn duty is. Sharjeel Imam's view is not hostile," Mir submitted.

He added,

"In terms of settled principle of law, speech has to be looked up in its entirety. Per se protest against NRC CAA, by no stretch of imagination, in a democracy that we have in India, can be termed as seditious.

When Sharjeel Imam says that this piece of legislation is per se unconstitutional, prejudicial to one community in India, and he seeks the government to take back and rethink and says if you don't do it, we will be on streets. He can't be hammered with sedition."

Also Read: 'Can A Person Be Booked For Sedition For Criticizing A Political Narrative?': Sharjeel Imam To Delhi Court In His Bail Plea

In this regard, he relied on the case of Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar where it was held that "criticism of public measures or comment on Government action, however, strongly worded, would be within reasonable limits and would be consistent with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression."

The Top Court had also observed: "strong words used to express disapprobation of the measures of Government with a view to their improvement or alteration by lawful means would not come within the section (124A IPC)...A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder."

FIR 22/2020 was registered by the Delhi Police under sec. 124A, 153A, 505 of the Indian Penal Code along with sec. 13 of the UAPA which was added later.

Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat heard Advocate Tanveer Ahmed Mir appearing on behalf of Sharjeel Imam who posed a question to the Court "If somebody is a critic of a constitutional policy, does that enable the State to book him for sedition?".

Mir argued that the right of protest, right to blockage, right to bring country to a standstill is not something which is equal to the act of Sedition. He relied on the case of Gurjatinder Pal Singh v. State of Punjab where the Punjab and Haryana High Court was of the opinion that a slogan raised to create a separate state out of Punjab is not per se Seditious.

He further added that where the speech was delivered is also an important aspect in these kind of matters. "We have to see where the speech is said. Whether speech is given, like in the Punjab case where people were carrying sword, or where there is an intellectual debate between students of a University...Here, Sharjeel is talking to students. He is exchanging thoughts. What society will be a society if it's not robust or what doesn't react. It will be a heap of sheep." Mir submitted.

The Court asked: "If you're looking at any speech, there is a viewpoint. There is nothing in law that a particular point should not be allowed. That point is taken, but will it make a difference if the speech is delivered in public, a hall or privately? Will these factors make a difference."

However, Mir responded,

"Till the time sec 124A is in the statute, it has to be applied. But it's there to be applied in a proper manner. If a speech is given in a closed door and then let it into public domain, which calls for violence or incites for violence, will certainly lead to incitement."

It was also argued that Imam is only a student. He is not a member of any banned organization and he is not stated to be a member of a terrorist gang in the chargesheet.

Mir stated that in deciding bail applications, an important factor which should certainly be taken into consideration by the Court is the delay in concluding the trial. "Often this takes several years, and if the accused is denied bail but is ultimately acquitted, who will restore so many years of his life spent in custody?" he asked.

SPP Amit Prasad appeared for the prosecution He stated: "My submission is two fold. What their argument hinges upon is whether Sedition and sec. 13 UAPA is made out or not. We can argue both on rebuttal and arguments on charge together because gist remains the same. We can have it anytime next week."

Accordingly, the mater has been adjourned to September first week.

(Compiled by Akshita Saxena)

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