The Delhi High Court on Friday observed that a speech former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Umar Khalid gave in Amravati on February 17, 2020—days before riots broke out in NorthEast Delhi—was prima facie "offensive", "obnoxious" and "inciteful".
"Don't you find such language offensive? It gives the impression that only one community was fighting against the British. Did Gandhiji ever employ such language? Did Bhagat Singh ever employ this? Is this what Gandhiji told us?" the bench said stopping Khalid's counsel midway as she was reading out the speech.
"We don't have a problem permitting free speech, but what are you saying? We can say that prima facie this is not acceptable," said the bench comprising Justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar.
The high court pointed out that it was easy to invoke Bhagat Singh, but difficult to emulate his principles. "If I remember history correctly, there was a gentleman who was eventually hanged for his acts against the state. After he had done what he was charged with, he stayed there and didn't run away," Justice Mridul observed.
The division bench asked senior advocate Trideep Pais whether freedom of speech could extend to such statements and whether it attracted the charges of Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc.) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860.
"We are not surprised that the FIR is premised on this part of the speech...Prima facie this is not acceptable. This is not acceptable in four corners of democracy and free speech," the bench added.
The high court's observations came while it was hearing Khalid's bail plea in the case where Delhi Police has accused him of conspiring to orchestrate the February 2020 Delhi Riots. The high court also issued notice and directed the Delhi police to file its reply and a digital copy of the chargesheet in a week.
Amravati Speech not inciteful: Khalid to HC
Senior advocate Trideep Pais told the high court that the Delhi Police allegations against Umar Khalid were nothing but a "silent whisper".
Pais argued that Khalid was not even present in the national capital when violence broke out in NorthEast Delhi during which at least 53 died and hundreds were injured.
Pais said the Delhi Police FIR and subsequent chargesheet relied on a speech Khalid gave in Amravati on February 17, 2020. "There is just one speech. The police went to TV channels requesting that speech. The channels tell them that they received it from a politician...even the special court didn't give a finding that this speech is provocative," Pais argued.
"If this is an obnoxious speech, so be it. That is not why I am here. I am here on allegations of terror," Pais pointed out.
Khalid has appealed against a lower court order denying him bail. The high court will now continue hearing the matter next week on April 27.
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