Friday, February 3, 2023

Delhi HC Reserves Order On Sharjeel Imam’s Plea Challenging Extension Of Period For Filing Chargesheet Against Him

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The Delhi High Court on Thursday has reserved its order in a plea filed by Sharjeel Imam challenging the trial court’s order granting more time to police to file charge sheet against him under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

A single judge Bench of Justice V Kameswar Rao heard the plea of the former JNU student Sharjeel Imam, arrested in a case related to alleged inflammatory speeches during the protests against CAA and NRC.

The Delhi Police on June 10, had filed a status report. ASG Aman Lekhi, appearing for the respondent had previously sought 10 days time to file supplementary status report. “Mr. Lekhi also stated, without prejudice, he intends to file on record report of the Public Prosecutor pursuant to which the duration of the investigation was extended from 90 days to 180 days. The statement is taken on record”, the Court noted in its order. 

During the hearing today, Senior Advocate Rebecca John appearing for Imam, stated before the Court that the Police had all the material for close to 80 days, but it chose to invoke UAPA only when the 90 days period was about to end. Regarding the supplementary status report, she stated that compelling reasons are to be given, for non completion of the investigation. However, the reasons mentioned in the report are not compelling.

Talking about the reasons given in the report in detail, she stated that Covid cannot be given as a reason. Investigation cannot be stopped due to covid and Covid can’t be a reason to deny liberty. If more people had to be investigated, why did it take the police 80 days to say that and why wasn’t it put on record.

There are murder cases that have been investigated in 90 days. Just because you have a right to ask for extension, that doesn’t mean you have the right to get it. More reasons like his friends have to be investigated, etc. You have been saying since the beginning how serious this issue is, how his speeches were against the country, etc and I agree but why wasn’t this brought on the 20th or 30th day? She said.

ASG Lekhi submitted before the Court hat its not a case where investigation wasn’t completed, its a case where pace was disrupted due to covid.

“If the period couldn’t be effectively utilised, it will approach for extension. The prosecutor will then be told, by the Investigation agency and prosecutors will have to see if the reasons are credible,” he said.

Regarding the report, Mr Lekhi clarified that the report does not rest on Covid alone. The application doesn’t say that due to covid they couldn’t investigate, they say that the pace was disrupted. What they intended to do couldn’t be done then and this cannot be held unreasonable. They didn’t have an alternative to continue investigation then.

“I’ve gone through the files and I am satisfied that there is no point in filing a chargesheet without completing the investigation. This is not a mere case of reproduction, this also is a case of application of mind” he added

Mr Lekhi, pointing towards Ms Rebecca John’s submission stated that if they have themselves submitted that the accused is a bad person, how that bad person being kept in custody can be challenged by them.

“He was kept in Police under IPC, while this is under UAPA. You can’t talk about time because when UAPA is invoked time is extended,” said ASG Lekhi.

After a day-long hearing, when both sides concludedded their arguments, the Court asked Counsels from both sides to submit their notes with their respective submissions by Sunday evening.

The Delhi High Court had previously asked for the Delhi Police’s response with regard to the current plea. Delhi Police has stated in its reply that they need to investigate more in this matter through Sharjeel’s Whatsapp messages and telephonic calls. The Police had submitted that due to the Lockdown for the containment of COVID-19 the investigating agency tried investigating Sharjeel through Whatsapp messages and telephonic calls.

Sharjeel in his plea sought directions to set aside the order passed by Sh. Gurvinder Pal Singh extending the period of investigation permissible under Section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“CrPC”) to 180 days. He has further sought directions allowing him to be released on bail under section 167 (2) of the CrPC, till the trial is pending before the Court.

The Supreme Court had also, on June 19 refused to stay his prosecution in different states while hearing his plea seeking stay and consolidation of FIRs registered against him in various states across the country. The Supreme Court had issued notice to States on his prayer for consolidation of FIRs registered against him.

Five FIR’s have been registered against him in different States for involvement in violence at Jamia on December 13 and 15, 2019, for instigating and abetting riots, due to his seditious speech on December 13 and for a speech he made at Aligarh Muslim University against Citizenship Amendment Act on January 15. Imam, who was previously one of the organizers of Citizenship Amendment Act protest at Shaheen Bagh is facing sedition charges under Sections 124 and 153-A including Section 13, UAPA.

On April 25, a Delhi Court extended investigation period under UAPA from 90 days to 180 days meaning that detention of Imam gets extended till investigation period. Delhi’s crime branch while seeking extension had sought more time on ground that anti-coronavirus lockdown had seriously disrupted pace of investigation.

-India Legal Bureau

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