New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday said that the decision on bail release of the three activists accused in the northeast Delhi riots conspiracy case could have pan-India ramifications. The Supreme Court was hearing the special leave petitions filed by the Delhi Police against the bail granted by the Delhi High Court to the student activists Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, and Asif Iqbal Tanha.Also Read - 'Line Between Right To Protest And Terrorist Activity Seems to be Getting Blurred', High Court Grants Bail to Activists in Delhi Riots Case
The Supreme Court refused to stay the Delhi High Court’s judgment. However, it also said the Delhi High Court’s decision on bail could not be used as a precedent for future cases.
The Supreme Court agreed to examine the legal aspects of the Delhi HC verdict, saying the case would be taken up next month.
“Issue notice. Counter affidavit be filed within 4 weeks. List in the week on a non-miscellaneous day commencing from July 19. In the meantime the impugned judgment shall not be treated as a precedent and will not be relied on by any of the parties before any court,” the bench said.
After spending more than a year in jail, the three student activists walked out of Delhi’s Tihar Jail on Thursday evening after they were granted bail in the northeast Delhi riots conspiracy case, and vowed to continue their struggle.
The release of the trio, arrested in May last year under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), came after a lower court order.
Walking out of Tihar Jail, Tanha said he had kept hope that he would be released one day and asserted that the fight against the CAA, NRC and the NPR would continue.
Students were carrying banners demanding the release of other political prisons, including former JNU student leader Umar Khalid, and the scrapping of the UAPA, under which the trio was arrested.
“We have received tremendous support inside jail and we will continue our struggle,” Narwal told reporters.
Welcoming the Delhi High Court order granting them bail, Narwal, an activist of women collective Pinjra Tod, said that when they were arrested, it took them many months to believe that they were in jail under such stringent charges.
While stating that the matter is still sub-judice, Kalita said, “… we would like to thank the Delhi High Court for upholding what we believe in. Any such protest that we have done is not terrorism. It was a democratic protest, led by women.”
Hitting out at the government, Kalita said people are in jail for raising their voice.
“It shows the desperation of the government… We are women who are not scared of them. They are trying to suppress the voice of people and dissent. We got a lot of support from people which helped us survive inside (jail),” she told reporters.
In a statement, Tanha said, “I want to reiterate that our fight is against the discriminatory CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) and not against people of any faith. I am glad that the honourable court has asserted that our peaceful and democratic protests had nothing to do with the riots. I hope that this judgement will serve as an important precedent. We have full faith in the fairness of the judiciary. I hope that the trial takes place in a speedy manner and we all are acquited soon.”
Tanha is a member of the Students’ Islamic Organisation of India.
While demanding the release of other prisoners, he also appealed to the government to address the Covid conditions in prison.
“Prisoners with shorter sentences need to be released to end overcrowding and all prisoners must immediately be vaccinated,” he added.
On the delay in their release after the high court granted them bail, Kalita said it was unbelievable because they had secured bail two-three days ago.
“…still we were inside jail. I almost kept expecting that some police officers will come and arrest me,” she added.
According to a senior jail official, Kalita and Narwal were released around 7 in the evening, and Tanha was let out half an hour later.
Director General (Delhi Prisons) Sandeep Goel said their release got pushed by two days over delays in verifying their addresses and sureties.
In its order for the immediate release of the trio, the Delhi court said the delay in the verification process by the police could not be a plausible reason for the accused to be kept imprisoned.
After securing bail from the high court, the activists had moved the trial court, seeking immediate release from prison.
When the trial court deferred the order on their plea for Thursday, they moved the Delhi High Court, which ordered the lower court to proceed with the issue with “promptitude and expedition”.
The three student activists were arrested in May 2020 and are accused of being the “masterminds” of the February 2020 violence, which left 53 people dead and more than 200 injured.
The high court, while granting them bail on June 15, had observed that “in an anxiety to suppress dissent, the state has blurred the line between right to protest and terrorist activity” and if such a mindset gains traction, it would be a “sad day for democracy”.
(With PTI inputs)