Do citizens today have the right to peacefully oppose their government?

Civil society marks one year of Dr Umar Khalid detention, asks if those who seek answers from the government will also have to pay with their freedom?

umar khalid

September 13, marks one year since Dr Umar Khalid, a human rights activist, was arrested, and has been in jail. Civil society activists, including eminent lawyers, journalists, former members of government commissions addressed a public meeting, and raised two crucial  questions:1) Do citizens today have the right to peacefully oppose their government – whether it’s policies, laws or views? Or, will they have to pay the kind of heavy price Umar Khalid is paying with their freedom? And 2) When a vital pillar of the criminal justice machinery – the investigating agencies- themselves betray communal bias, what does this mean for our rights and freedoms, for Umar Khalid’s freedom?

The speakers included Syeda Hameed (ex-member, Planning Commission and women’s rights activist), Prashant Bhushan (senior Supreme Court lawyer) , Zafarul Islam Khan (ex-Chairperson, Delhi Minorities Commission) Jasbeer Kaur (leader, Movement for Farmers Rights), Siddharth Varadarajan (founder-editor, The Wire), Bharat Bhushan (senior journalist) and Manoj Jha (member of Parliament. The event was moderated by Farah Naqvi (author and activist).

On the night of September 13, 2020 historian and an activist Dr Umar Khalid, a vocal voice speaking out against the CAA, was “called in for questioning by the Special Cell, Delhi Police,” and arrested under FIR 59 of the Delhi Riots case, additional charges under UAPA were then added against him. “His only fault was to uphold the constitution and oppose CAA, NPR, NRC. He saluted the women of Shaheen Bagh during a public meeting in Amaravati, Maharashtra and called for upholding Gandhi’s ideals. He saluted the women who came out on the streets when students of Jamia were brutally repressed, and stayed outside in protest for 101 days. The regime was scared of this courage. For them an educated Muslim is an eye sore,” said Syeda Hameed.

Portions of Umar Khalid’s speech delivered at Amravati in February 2020 was played out at the press conference. It was 47 seconds of this speech that was clipped and shared out of context by the BJP IT cell to frame Umar, recalled the panel. The Delhi police had even told the courts that the clippings used to implicate Khalid were “procured from media houses”. The media houses in turn said they had relied on Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT cell head Amit Malviya’s tweet, which had shared the clipped speech.  The full speech may be heard here: . Sabrangindia has been consistently reporting on the weighty arguments made by Trideep Pais, counsel for Khalid before Additional Sessions Judge, Amitabh Rawat. These articles may be read here and here.

Journalist Siddharth Varadarajan urged people to read the “ridiculous chargesheets” which he said argues that “the purpose behind the riots in Delhi on the eve of Donald Trump visit, was to highlight anti-CAA sentiments and defame the Prime Minister.” He called this a “brazen lie given that International media had been reporting the protests since last December.”  According to Varadarajan “The reason for criminalizing anti-CAA protesters,” he said “is to cover up the real perpetrators of Delhi riots. Umar can be arrested under UAPA but Hindutva leaders who called for genocide against Muslims were booked under flimsy sections so that they can get easy bail.”

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan reiterated that the investigations were “a conspiracy to frame innocents and cover up real perpetrators.” He added that all activists are being detained under UAPA, merely for opposing the CAA.



Former Chairperson of the Delhi Minority Commission Zafrul Islam Khan recalled that the commission had established a committee, and published its findings, however, “the police went to court demanding that this report must not be placed in any court.” He asked why the police were “afraid of this report if they have nothing to hide?” and called for a Judicial Commission to probe the charges. Khan also reminded the audience and the media of 18 other young student and youth leaders similarly incarcerated since 2020 as also ordinary and innovent members of the Muslim community. Parliamentarian Manoj Jha hailed Umar Khalid as “one of the brightest and most uncontaminated minds of this age.” adding that “In these difficult times you will not find heroes in films, but behind bars for speaking up against the government…The government could not deal with Shaheen Bagh, hence it resorted to demonizing it.”

Activist Jasbeer Kaur drew a parallel with the ongoing farmers protest and said they too have been branded as “terrorists, khalistanis etc. They wanted to derail our movement too. Shaheen Bagh, just like the farmer, also raised its voice against an unjust law. It is Kapil Mishra and the rioters who must have been sent to prison, not Umar.” Journalist Bharat Bhushan said it is because “an authoritarian state needs enemies,” that an activist like Umar has been made into one. He said the BJP “is threatened by a young crop of leadership that has emerged from the people’s movement. Devangana, Umar and the others are all part of the educated articulate non institutionalized organic leadership vouching for secularism and constitutionalism for religious pluralism, ecological justice, gender justice, justice for Dalits, – who scare this govt. That is why he is in jail.”

The panel recalled the ongoing vilification and targeting of Muslims across the country but added that there was a ray hope that has come from the judiciary. Recently, the Courts, have passed around 20 orders related to the Delhi Riots cases where the Delhi Police has been put in the dock for their “shoddy investigations” and  “half-baked chargesheets”.



Production of electronic evidence delayed: Student activists to Delhi Court, 2020

Delhi violence: What is happening in case involving the conspiracy FIR under UAPA?

Umar Khalid files fresh bail plea, opposes State’s “dilatory tactics”

Chargesheet calls me ‘veteran of sedition’, gives it a communal colour: Umar Khalid to

UAPA case is to selectively target people who oppose CAA: Dr. Umar Khalid




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