In New Delhi, a human rights activist and former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student, Umar Khalid, was arrested by the Police’s special cell under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) and sent to judicial custody till October 22 2020,for his alleged role in the riots of north-east Delhi in February this year.
About Umar Khalid
Syed Umar Khalid was born in Jamia Nagar, New Delhi in 1987 and lived there for last 30 years. He studied history at the Kirori Mal College of the Delhi University. He later did his M.Phil. in history from JNU. He was former Democratic Students Union leader in JNU. Notably, his father Syed Qasim Ilyas was one of the founder member of the organization SIMI (Student Islamic Movement of India), which was banned due to its separatist and radical activities in 2001.
JNU Sedition Case
In 2016, he organized an event to protest against the hanging of the Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. Later on, he along with 5 other students absconded and returned after 10 days and surrendered to police where he was taken into custody. According to some media reports, it was at this event where anti-India slogans were raised, based on which sedition charges were slapped on 9 students including him and JNUSU President, Kanhaiya Kumar. According to the JNU students, he is a communist and self proclaimed atheist, but not an Islamist.
Reportedly, it was Umar Khalid who conceived the idea of conducting a cultural evening to commemorate the death anniversary of Afzal Guru. The event was named “A country without a Post Office”. Intelligence report suggested that the group wanted to conduct such events in 18 universities across the country.
JNU initially refused to allow him to submit his Ph.D. thesis in 2018 , after the high level enquiry committee that looked into the 9 February, 2016 incident protests. Thereafter, he approached the High court of Delhi, which directed the JNU to allow him to submit his thesis. However, again in 2018, Umar Khalid along with Jignesh Mevani were booked under FIR for giving ‘provocative’ speeches in Pune, known as the Bhima Koregaon Incident.
Delhi Riots 2020
Protests began in December 2019, all across India in response to passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which allows fast track naturalization for immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan belonging to 6 religions vis-à-vis Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism. Those protesting allege that the new law is against Muslims and preferential treatment is given to non-Muslims in India i.e. discriminatory. Reactionary protests were also held at universities across the country.
On 22 February, around 500- 1000 protesters, including women began a sit-in protest near the Jaffrabad metro station and blocked the roads. Whereas, on 24 February BJP leader Kapil Mishra and his supporters reached the protest site to give answer to the Jaffrabad road blockage. He gave a speech against the CAA protesters and threatened that he would take the matter into his own hands if the police failed to disperse the protesters within 3 days time. This acted as an inciting factor for the protest to turn violent.
Clashes between pro and anti CAA protesters in Jaffrabad turned into a communal violence on the night of 23 February which spread across north-east Delhi for next 4 days. It left 53 people dead and around 400 injured. Delhi police faced criticism for ineffective handling of the riots. Several people have been arrested in connection with the riots till now.
Umar Khalid is booked for his alleged ‘Provocative speeches’ during the visit of American President Donald Trump to India. Police consider his speeches instigating and facilitating the Delhi riots 2020. The police special cell is looking into a larger conspiracy behind these riots. They claim that Umar Khalid was one of the key conspirators of these riots.
In the chargesheet filed by the Delhi Police, the communal riot incident in February was “pre-planned’ by Umar Khalid and others. He is accused of giving provocative speeches and urging people to come out on the roads to ensure that the propaganda of “minorities in India are being persecuted” may be noticed during Donald Trump’s visit.
In Khalid’s speech against CAA, that went viral on social media, he can be heard saying “When Donald Trump comes to India on February 24, we will say that the Prime Minister and Indian government are trying to divide the country…They are destroying the values of Mahatma Gandhi and the people of India are fighting against them. If those in power want to divide India, the people of India are ready to unite the country….”
Police claimed that they have evidence against Umar Khalid in the form of WhatsApp chats which were allegedly used in the execution of the conspiracy, alleged witness statements and receipt of funds from within India and overseas.
Insight to the Details of the Charge Sheet
The Delhi police filed a 17000 pages charge sheet on Delhi riots after nearly 200 days of filing of FIR to investigate the conspiracy behind it. The charge sheet was filed against 15 members and 6 other accused were arrested but not mentioned in the charge sheet. Notably, Umar Khalid’s name was not included in the first charge sheet. The police said they would file supplementary charge sheet naming the others.
A profusion of sections of IPC and UAPA have been charged against all the accused, Criminal conspiracy (Section 120B) of IPC read with sedition, murder, dacoity, promoting enmity between 2 groups and several other accusations. In the process of investigation, the police have examined and listed 747 witness to back their case, which included few insiders who helped the police to understand how everything worked as per their two weeks of planning for the riots. Police claimed that Umar Khalid’s mobile data ran into 11 lakh pages as the team extracted 40 GB data.
What is Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA)?
UAPA is an Indian law aimed at effective prevention of unlawful activities or association in India. The main objective of this Act was to make powers available for dealing with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India. It was developed as an anti- terrorist law.
It was enacted in the year 1967 and the latest amendment was made in the year 2019 which expanded the ambit of the Act. This controversial amendment allowed the Central Government to designate an individual as terrorist without trial and organizations as terrorist organizations and also prescribe penalties.
Keeping this power of Central Government in mind do you think Umar Khalid will be tagged as a terrorist or only penalized with the punishments mentioned under the Act?