NEW DELHI — Sharjeel Imam, JNU student facing a massive witch-hunt at the hands of the media and the state apparatus for a speech of his that went viral, has found solidarity from activists on social media on Monday. They have extended their support to him, asked the media to stop the witch-hunt, and appealed to the police to withdraw the sedition charges against him.
Police stations in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi have filed cases against Imam, charging him with criminal conspiracy, sedition and promoting enmity between groups on the basis of religion. He is accused of making “provocative” statements and “instigating” the people to block the North-East including Assam from the mainland. He allegedly did so through exhortations via a viral video.
The police raided his ancestral home at Kako in Jehanabad in Bihar, but were unable to locate him. Cops detained some of his relatives and subjected them to interrogation. His mother, according to media reports, accused the police of harassing the family. Activists slammed the police for raiding the house and detaining some of Imam’s relatives for no reason.
The activists have launched a twitter campaign urging all allies to come out and voice their support for Imam. They say that Imam needs the support of all student activists and Muslims. Sharjeel Usmani, the student activist from Aligarh Muslim University, has asked protesters to come out and show solidarity with Imam.
I don't have much hope from others. But if you are going to throw Sharjeel Imam under the bus to gain a little more legitimacy of these protests in the eyes of the state, I'll jump with him. We're in this together.
— Sharjeel Usmani (@SharjeelUsmani) January 25, 2020
Besides the social media, a group of student activists from JNU have issued a statement announcing that they stand in solidarity with Sharjeel Imam and demanded revocation of all cases against him. The statement appealed to the people to support all those who have been subjected to such witch-hunt or are facing cases at the hands of authorities for anti-CAA protests.
KATJU BACKS IMAM
Former Supreme Court judge Justice Markandey Katju has written an opinion piece in a journal, saying that the charges of sedition against Imam should be quashed by the high court, as he has committed no crime and only exercised his right of freedom of expression.
Suchitra Vijayan, who runs the Polis Project, wrote that a speech by itself is no sedition and people have the right to disagree, criticise and even curse.
Speech is not sedition.
Disagree, criticize, and even curse.
But no student should be charged under the UAPA with sedition for speaking.
It’s not only draconian, laws like UAPA go against the very idea of justice.
We stand always against the fascist. #SharjeelImam
— Suchitra Vijayan (@suchitrav) January 26, 2020
Most supporters say imam’s speech has been misinterpreted as he was calling only for organising protests in the form of roadblocks and shutdowns in Assam, and did not talk in terms of secession.
Netizens were surprised at the silence of prominent activists and former JNU student leaders like Kanhaia Kumar and Umar Khalid on the issue. In 2016, the duo also had faced similar witch-hunt at the hands of the media and the state after they organised an event on the anniversary of parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, who was hanged to death.
This is uncomfortable but needs to be said:
When the JNU case happened, we all spoke up.
I hope you will do the same when the victim is someone else.
— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) January 26, 2020
Many supporters have termed Imam’s speech as an emotional one, and politically immature, but added that the witch-hunt should nonetheless stop.
Sharjeel Imam's speech may be immature but not seditious. He's calling for Chakka Jam not secession of NE. Fact that no one's pursuing that course of action should make it clear where people stand.
— Aditya Menon (@AdityaMenon22) January 25, 2020
If a movt is so weak that it throws one of its own under the bus to gain 'legitimacy', then it loses credibility.
That speech was condemnable, I'd call it emotional and silly but it is NOT sedition.
Colonial sedition laws have no place in a democracy.
— Sidrah (@SidrahDP) January 26, 2020
The supporters were also dejected at the response of the ‘progressive and liberal’ voices over this issue, who they think have played their part in the demonizing of Sharjeel Imam because of his Muslim identity.
Fascists are calling him anti national, traitor, terrorist. So called woke people feel that they are entitled to hound him, demonise him; just because of the fact that he has a Muslim name.
— Nabiya Khan | نبیہ خان (@NabiyaKhan11) January 27, 2020
After Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, the police in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur in the North East too have registered cases against Imam for his statements. According to NDTV, a police officer in Arunachal Pradesh said that a case against Imam under IPC sections 124 A (an offence by words, either spoken or written, that causes disaffection against Government established by law), 153 A (promoting enmity between different religious groups with an intent to create disharmony) and 153 B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) has been registered on Sunday.
The remarks of Imam are being used by the right wing forces to discredit Shaheen Bagh protests even as coordinators of Shaheen Bagh have distanced the sit-in from Imam. The right wing trolls have started an online campaign to undercut the Shaheen Bagh and anti-CAA protests and paint them as anti-national and seditious. Home minster Amit Shah urged the voters to exhibit their anger against Shaheen Bagh protests by voting for the BJP. “Press the button so hard that the current will reach Shaheen Bagh,” Shah said in a rally.