Patna: Five months after he was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in connection with a case related to the communal violence in North-East Delhi in February this year, student leader Umar Khalid was arrested late on Sunday night by the Delhi Police’s Special Cell. The communal conflagration between February 23 and 26 had claimed 53 lives, leaving 581 injured.
Khalid is accused of hatching a criminal conspiracy to cause communal unrest by inciting people who were protesting against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). He has been booked under several charges, including UAPA, sedition and conspiracy to commit murder.
However, so far the police has not placed on record a single provocative speech made by Khalid, except some “disclosure” statements recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC and a ghost FIR (no. 59/2020) based on the complaint of an unnamed police informer.
Khalid’s father, Syed Qasim Rasool Ilyas, said his son was arrested at around 11 pm on September 13. “The police had been questioning him since 1 p.m. He was taken into custody after 10 hours of questioning. He has been implicated in the Delhi riots,” he said.
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He was interrogated by the Special Cell on September 12 and on Sunday as well. The Crime Branch too had interrogated Khalid on September 2.
His arrest comes at a time when a political row erupted after Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, Delhi University Professor Apoorvanand, internationally acclaimed economist Jayati Ghosh and film maker Rahul Roy were named in a chargesheet on the basis of identical “disclosure” statements of two accused who refused to sign their alleged confessions.
The Case Against Umar Khalid
Though the former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student has been named in several chargesheets filed in various cases of the riots in the national capital, he is a named accused in FIR number 59/2020. He, along with others have been slapped with the stringent anti-terror law (UAPA) in addition to Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections pertaining to murder, attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy and sedition.
Originally registered under IPC Sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) at Crime Branch police station on March 6, the FIR was filed by the Crime Branch of the city police based on a complaint by sub-inspector Arvind Kumar.
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Khalid and one Danish, a resident of Bhajanpura, were named as accused in the FIR.
In the FIR, the complainant – sub-inspector Kumar – stated: “One of my informers has informed me that the riots, which took place in Delhi on February 23, 24 and 25, was pre-planned and that its conspiracy was hatched by JNU student Umar Khalid and his accomplices who are associated with two different organisations.”
Explaining the “conspiracy”, he alleged: “Umar Khalid made inflammatory speeches at two different places and appealed people to come out to streets and block roads (in the national capital) ahead of US President Donald Trump's proposed visit to India so that a message goes out to the international community that minorities in India are persecuted (sic).”
“As planned”, the FIR read: “Umar Khalid and his associates brought women and children on roads at several places in Delhi to cause riots. As part of the conspiracy, firearms, petrol bombs, acid bottles, stones, catapults and other lethal weapons were collected at several locations such as Mainpuri, Kardampuri, Jaffrabad, Chand Bagh, Gokalpuri, Shiv Vihar and other surrounding areas.”
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“One Danish, a resident of Bhajanpura, was tasked with mobilising outsiders from different places to take part in the riots. As part of the conspiracy, the road crossing through the Jaffrabad Metro station (main 66 Foot Road which connects Delhi to Uttar Pradesh) was got blocked by women and children with an aim to create a tension by causing traffic inconvenience to people and the same can lead to riots,” the FIR further alleged, adding that “it was made sure that the children of the minority community studying in schools in the area reach home early as planned.”
After its the case was registered by the crime branch, it was later transferred to the Special Cell for investigation. As of now, the case cites various sections of the UAPA and the IPC.
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Notably, the FIR seems to be in line with what several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have said; they have alleged that the violence was orchestrated by anti-CAA protestors as part of a conspiracy at a time when US President Donald Trump was visiting the city, in order to show India in a poor light.
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The Delhi Police's Special Cell has summoned short film producer Rahul Roy and documentary filmmaker Saba Dewan for questioning in connection with the northeast Delhi riots, official sources said on Monday.
They said that Dewan and Roy have been asked to join the investigation on Monday, reports PTI.
Civil Society Condemns Arrest
A group of intellectuals and activists condemned the arrest and demanded the immediate release of all “young voices who spoke for the constitutional values of the country.” The statement said Khalid has been subjected to a “maliciou”" investigation "targeting peaceful anti-CAA protestors".
“With deep anguish we have no doubt in saying that this investigation is not about the violence in February 2020 in the national capital, but on the completely peaceful and democratic protests across the country against the unconstitutional CAA. Umar Khalid was one of the hundreds of voices that spoke up in favour of the Constitution across the country during these anti-CAA protests. He has emerged as a strong and powerful voice of young Indians in favour of the Constitution and of democracy. The repeated attempts by the Delhi police to implicate him in a number of fictitious cases of conspiracy for the Delhi violence are part of a brazen attempt to try to suppress his voice of dissent,” their statement said.
The police has registered 751 FIRs in connection with the riots. A total of 20 people (mostly students and rights activists) have been arrested in the riots conspiracy case, of which 17 have been charged under the UAPA and have been imprisoned. Significantly, 19 of them are under the age of 31.
“The nature of investigation has been mainly to silence democratic voices and instill fear, and this is precisely the objective of this witch hunt,” their statement added.
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Given the past precedence of attacks in court premises, in the instance of Kanhaiya Kumar and the attempt on Khalid’s life in 2018, they urged, “...it is imperative that all measures are taken to avoid any threat to his life and safety so long as he remains in the custody of the state/judiciary.”
United Against Hate (UAH), a campaign which was started in July 2017 in response to mob-lynchings across the country – with which Khalid is associated – also released a statement, calling the arrest “intimidation”.
“The fairy tale narrative that the Delhi Police has been spinning and criminalising protests in the garb of riots has found yet another victim. The fight against draconian CAA and UAPA will go on despite all these horrid measures of intimidation. Right now, our first priority is that Umar Khalid should be given maximum security and the Delhi Police must ensure his safety by all means possible,” it said.