A Delhi court on Monday sent former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Umar Khalid to 10 days in police custody,a day after his arrest under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, for his alleged role in a conspiracy behind the February riots in the national capital’s north-east district.
Khalid’s counsel Trideep Pais told the court that his client was not in Delhi between February 23 and 26, when the riots took place; that he was opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, and not ashamed of his stand; and that the police were yet to produce evidence that Khalid had incited the protests.
The court accepted the police’s remand application on the grounds that the 33-year-old has to be confronted with a huge volume of technical data, and that he should be sent to custody so that an effective investigation can be carried out.
Several activists and civil society members have opposed Khalid’s arrest on allegedly flimsy grounds, and have demanded to know why the police have taken no action against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kapil Mishra, who was seen giving an inflammatory speech in north-east Delhi a day before the violence broke out on February 24.
They also asked why other BJP leaders were not booked for speeches delivered during the run up to the Delhi elections just weeks before the riots.
Nine retired IPS officers on Monday wrote to Delhi’s police commissioner SN Srivastava saying they were “pained” at police implicating anti-CAA protesters while “letting off the hook all those who instigated violence and are associated by the ruling party”. Though the letter did not mention any names, BJP leaders Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma were criticised at the time for speeches and slogans ahead of the Delhi elections.
Mishra, who denies all charges, on Monday released a video congratulating the police for arresting Khalid and “people like him”, and likened the riots with the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
Delhi Police produced Khalid before additional sessions judge Amitabh Rawat in a virtual hearing of the Karkardooma court on Monday afternoon.
Special public prosecutor Amit Prasad said Khalid had to be confronted with documents that run into nearly 1.1 million pages and “huge technical data”.
The judge allowed Khalid’s counsel to interact with his client for half-an-hour every day, while asking police officers to remain outside the audible range during the meetings. He also directed a deputy commissioner of police (DCP) to make arrangements for ensuring Khalid’s safety and security during the police remand after Pais raised concern over the safety of his client in case he is taken out of the police station.
Fifty-three people were killed and around 400 injured in the north-east Delhi riots, which started as clashes between pro- and anti-CAA and protestors before acquiring a communal colour.
The police contended that an examination of witnesses revealed that Khalid was coordinating between protest sites in Delhi in connivance with other radical groups.
“Further interrogation is needed in order to unearth deep-rooted conspiracy and to collect clinching evidence to nab/arrest the remaining conspirators behind these riots During the course of investigation, names of some more suspects have also cropped up and above named accused are required to be questioned at length about those suspects to obtain their exact particulars for further investigation,” the police remand application said.
Khalid was arrested at around 11pm on Sunday after 10 hours of questioning. He was arrested in a case registered by the special cell of Delhi Police that is probing a suspected larger conspiracy behind the Delhi riots. The case has been registered under stringent Sections, including 13, 16, 17 and 18 of the UAPA that pertain to unlawful activities, terrorist acts, raising funds for terrorist acts and conspiracy.
In the same case, police have arrested at least 11 others, including former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan, former Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) councillor former Tahir Hussain, activists Khalid Saifi, Safoora Zargar and Gufisha Khatoon, who are students of Jamia Millia Islamia, and Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, both JNU students and members of the women’s collective Pinjra Tod.
The police also alleged: “The riots were planned to be happened during or prior to the visit of US President Donald Trump in February 2020.”
“My son was targeted for participating in the protests held against the CAA and National Register of Citizens across the country,” Khalid’s father, Sayed Qasim Rasool Ilyas said.
Khalid has been named in multiple first information reports (FIRs) and charge sheets filed by police in the riots cases. Police have alleged that Khalid orchestrated the riots along with AAP councillor Hussain and activist Khalid Saifi, a member of the United Against Hate group. In least four charge sheets filed in city courts, the police have said that Khalid met the two men at the Shaheen Bagh protest site on January 8, during which they discussed a plan to orchestrate the riots.
In a twitter post, advocate Prashant Bhushan criticised Delhi Police for arresting Khalid but not acting against Kapil Mishra.