Friday, February 3, 2023

Sharjeel Imam’s plea rejected, investigation time extended

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The Delhi High Court on Friday rejected the plea filed by Sharjeel Imam, challenging the decision of the trial court in granting Delhi Police an extension of three months, beyond the period of 90 days, to complete the investigation against him for offences under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. As a result, Imam will not be released on default bail now.

A single judge bench of Justice V Kameswar Rao had, on June 25, reserved its order in 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 high court has held that there were good and justifiable grounds for extending the investigation and the respondents were justified contending that compelling reasons mean good or sufficient reasons that justify the extension of the investigation beyond a period of 90 days.

An FIR had been filed against Imam under Sections 153A, 124A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code, and thereafter he was arrested on January 28. Subsequently, provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, had been invoked against him.

Five FIR’s were 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 the 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.

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.

Challenging the order of extension Senior Advocate Rebecca John, appearing on behalf of Imam, had made a submission that no notice was issued by the court regarding the extension of the time beyond 90 days under provisions UAPA, and only a WhatsApp message was sent on the April 24 from the investigation officer regarding the same.

She also cited cases like Sanjay Kumar Kedia v. GNCTD (1996), Mohd. Maroof & Ors. v. State (2015) etc to emphasise on how important the essential requirements under Section 43D(2) of UAPA are and how they had been foregone as neither notice had been issued by the court, nor any compelling reasons were given by the Public Prosecutor for the extension of the investigation time.

ASG Aman Lekhi, appearing on behalf of the Delhi Police, had submitted to the court that at the outset that there was no infirmity in the report and that the arguments advanced by the petitioner were misconceived in both facts and law.

ASG Lekhi had made a submission that in order to conduct an investigation, there is a requirement to proceed to the spot, examine witnesses, and conduct seizures, which couldn’t be done due to imposition of nationwide lockdown and the pandemic.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate John had, 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 had 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 had said.

ASG Lekhi had submitted before the Court that it’s not a case where investigation wasn’t completed, it’s 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 had said.

Regarding the report, Lekhi had 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 had added.

Lekhi, pointing towards Rebecca John’s submission had 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,” Lekhi said.

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 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.

Read the judgment here;


– India Legal Bureau

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