Right to Protest Embedded in Democratic Polity, Can’t Face Jail for It: Delhi High Court

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The court granted bail to five including a woman, Tabassum and computer science graduate from Bijnore, Shadab Ahmad, Suvaleen, Mohd Arif, and Furkan allegedly involved in rioting, murder of head constable Ratan Lal and injuring DCP Amit Sharma in northeast Delhi during the February 2020 riots.

NEW DELHI — The Delhi High Court on Friday held that right to protest and express dissent is a right that occupies a fundamental stature in a democratic polity, therefore, the sole act of protesting should not be employed as a weapon to justify the incarceration of those who are exercising this right.

A single judge bench of Justice Subramonium Prasad made this observation while granting bail to a woman and four men allegedly involved in the offences of rioting, murder of head constable Ratan Lal and injuring DCP Amit Sharma in northeast Delhi during the February 2020 riots.

“The right to protest and express dissent is a right which occupies a fundamental stature in a democratic polity, and therefore, the sole act of protesting should not be employed as a weapon to justify the incarceration of those who are exercising this right,” it said, emphasising that it is the constitutional duty of the court to ensure that there is no arbitrary deprivation of personal liberty in the face of excess of state power.

“Bail is the rule and jail is the exception, and courts must exercise their jurisdiction to uphold the tenets of personal liberty, subject to rightful regulation of the same by validly enacted legislation,” said the bench, granting bail to Tabassum, a mother of two children.

“The Supreme Court has time and again held that courts need to be alive to both ends of the spectrum, i.e. the duty of the courts to ensure proper enforcement of criminal law, and the duty of the courts to ensure that the law does not become a tool for targeted harassment,” it observed.

The high court said it would not be prudent to keep Tabassum, who has two minor children, behind bars for an undefined period of time at this stage.

The high court noted merely being one of the organisers of the protest as well as being in touch with others who participated in the protest is not sufficient enough to justify petitioners were involved in the pre-planning of the alleged incident.

It also granted relief to 27-year-old computer science graduate from Bijnore, Shadab Ahmad, who was arrested on April 6, 2020, in the case. Similarly, the court granted bail to Suvaleen, who is merely 18 years old, Mohd Arif, and Furkan.

The high court noted that in all cases, charge sheets have already been filed and the trial was likely to take a long time. It also imposed bail conditions on the petitioners.

For Suvaleen, the court noted that he can’t be behind bars for an undefined period, as the incarceration with hardened criminals will only be detrimental. — IANS

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