NEW DELHI — In Umar Khalid’s third hearing for bail, his lawyer Trideep Pais opened arguments by referring to the supplementary chargesheet in the conspiracy case of the Delhi riots, and the Delhi Police claim that co-accused Sharjeel Imam was directed by Khalid to start a WhatsApp group called “Muslim Students of JNU” on the night of 5-6 December 2019.
“Constituting a WhatsApp group for Muslim students isn’t terror,” Pais said.
Khalid, a Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University and a political activist, and 18 others including students and activists have been charged with terrorism under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 — UAPA. The Delhi Police say they used the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as a front to plan the communal violence which claimed the lives of 53 people in the national capital in February 2020.
Pais said that the police assertion about Imam, a Ph.D. candidate at JNU, forming the group at the direction of Khalid was not based on any witness, there was not a single message by Khalid on the group, and there was no communication between Khalid and Imam before 5 December 2019.
“5.12.2019 is when the group was started. Before that there was not a shred of communication between me (Khalid) and him,” said Pais. “In this group, Umar Khalid doesn’t write a single message and doesn’t take part in any conversation.”
“The CDRs (call records) of Umar Khalid and Sharjeel Imam does not show them in contact prior to this period and even after that. Never have they spoken to each other,” he said. “I’m not distancing myself out of fear of this co-accused. I’m just telling your honour there is nothing by way of connection between these two accused.”
Pais said that anyone could add a person to a WhatsApp group, and being in a group was not a crime.
Referring to a speech given by Imam on 13 December 2019 and reproduced in the chargesheet, Pais noted that Imam had spoken of his ideological disagreement with Khalid’s secular and inclusive approach.
“Just two pages before this, you are saying that Umar Khalid is asking him to start MSG. Like this man is going to listen to me (Khalid) as if I’m (Khalid) the collector and he is the deputy collector. The script is nicely tied up because this is their (police) wish — can we paint these people who are against the CAA under one brush,” he said.
Half of the chargesheet, Pais said, was the “fertile imagination of the investigating officer and the scriptwriters of this chargesheet.” “None of this is supported by evidence,” he said.
With regards to the police referring to Khalid as Imam’s “senior and mentor,” Pais said, “This is such a dangerous game.”
With regards to the police claim that Khalid had introduced Imam to the Swaraj Abhiyan founder Yogendra Yadav, instructed him to form a group of “like-minded Muslim students” of JNU, Jamia Millia, AMU and DU, and that he had explained to Imam the concept of chakka jam, Pais said the police did not have any witness.
“Conjecture,” said Pais. “There is no statement to this effect.”
A second WhatsApp chat on 7 December 2019 revealed that Imam had mobilized students on his own, and he was not someone who wanted to be carrying out someone else’s diktats, Pais said. “And this is your best material,” he said, referring to the police.
With regards to a meeting held in Jangpura on 8 December 2019, where it was allegedly decided to “execute the earlier agreed conspiracy of Chakka Jam,” Pais raised the question of “illegality.”
“Is chakka jam an offence? Does chakka jam automatically invite the UAPA? Is a meeting to say that a protest will involve chakka jam automatically a criminal conspiracy?” said Pais. “Where does it say that it is a crime?”
“This meeting has found itself in every news item, and been bandied about like some great conspiracy,” he said. “Please tell me the criminality on this page.”
There was nothing “secret” about the 8 December meeting, Pais said, noting that there was a photograph of the gathering which the police had used in the chargesheet and that it was discussed by Imam in a WhatsApp chat.
The police had three unsigned statements from their witnesses Tahira Daud, Parvej Alam, and Purshottam Sharma, with no statement given to a metropolitan or judicial magistrate. (A police statement does not have any evidentiary value). Furthermore, the statements were recorded in June, July, and August — six to eight months after the meeting, Pais said.
Reading the three statements in court, Pais said that the three witnesses only spoke of planning a protest, only one mentioned a chakka jam, and no one mentioned Khalid.
“None of the witnesses speak of conspiracy or a meeting of minds for an illegal act?” he said. “What is a crime is a conspiracy to commit a legal act illegally or conspiracy to commit an illegal act. Neither of it is disclosed from these three witnesses.”