A sessions court in Delhi has heard the bail plea of Chandrasekhar Azaad, chief of the Dalit liberation group, Bheem army, who has been in custody since 21st Dec 2019. The Delhi Police arrested him for leading an anti Citizenship (Amendment) Act protest, outside Jama Masjid, which was attended by a huge number of people.
Azad’s group had organised a march from Jama Masjid to Jantar Mantar on December 20th, allegedly without police permission. The protesters were stopped by police and paramilitary forces at Delhi Gate, after which they allegedly turned violent. The police resorted to lathi-charge and used a water cannon to control the situation.
Delhi’s Tis Hazari Court Judge, Justice Kamini Lau, strictly questioned the prosecution and the Delhi police, on their action for Azad’s detention. She pointed out some really important factors that define the legal rights of protesters, asking the prosecution and the Delhi police, “Have you read the constitution? “
Justice Lau posed objection to the prosecution’s argument and said that every citizen has the constitutional right to protest. She further added, that not just he, but every citizen has the right to protest through dharna, and gatherings, and this not at all a criminal offence.
When questioned by the court, the Delhi Police and the public prosecutor accused Azaad for conducting protest without seeking prior approval . However the court emphasised the Supreme Court’s earlier statement that use of section 144 is actually an’ abuse’.
Further Justice Lau directly asked the prosecution “I want you to show me under which law is it prohibited for someone to prohibit outside religious places?” The judge also raised questions on the investigation that is being followed. “Do you think our Delhi Police is so backward that they have no recorded evidence? In small matters Delhi Police have recorded evidence why not in this incident,” the judge noted.
The most remarkable statement given by the court was that the law does not prohibit people to protest or demonstrate in anywhere.“You are behaving as if Jama Masjid is Pakistan. Even if it was Pakistan, you can go there and protest. Pakistan was a part of undivided India,” Judge Lau said, stressing that the citizens have a right to protest.
The bail plea, filed through advocate Mehmood Pracha, mentioned that there has been no specific incriminating role as mentioned in the FIR against Azad; of which the contents were “vague” and based on “conjectures and surmises”.
What came as an absolute surprise, was when Mehmood Pracha informed the court that the FIR mentioned the charges against Azad and when judge Lau asked the prosecutor about those charges, the prosecutor pleaded ignorance and said that “he will find out.”
The judge was surprised that the prosecution was oblivious of the actual charge sheet. Also, when the ASJ sought concrete evidence from the Delhi Police on citing violence during protests, they answered, “We have drone images of gathering. So far we don’t have audio-video recording.”
In 2017, Judge Kamini Lau was in the news, when a bench of Justice Valmiki J Mehta and Justice Indermeet Kaur of the Delhi High Court initiated criminal contempt charges against her after she made “judicial improper remarks” against a sitting Delhi High Court judge.
It will be interesting to watch how the prosecution works out the loopholes. Were all the charges fabricated? If so; then this is a blatant attempt of suppressing dissent in whatever way possible. The hearing has been adjourned till tomorrow.