Twelve foreign nationals from Indonesia who had come to India in February this year to attend the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi were discharged by the Bandra Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court on September 29, 2020. The Foreign nationals had filed a discharge application through their lawyer Ishrat Khan before the Court on September 8.
Metropolitan Magistrate Jaydeo Y. Ghule noted that nothing reveals that the “accused had deliberately disobeyed the order duly promulgated by the Public Servant as well as negligently, they were acting in the manner as was likely to spread the infection of the disease dangerous to life.” The court also directed the accused to be discharged from all charges levelled against them, to return their seized passports with due identification and cancel their bail bond.
In August, the police had submitted a chargesheet against them and dropped the more serious sections under Indian Penal Code sections 304 (II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 307 (attempt to murder). The less serious charges under the Epidemic Diseases Act, the Foreigners Act, and Disaster Management Act were however retained.
The discharge plea stated that the delegates had arrived in Delhi in different batches on February 29, March 2 and March 6, 2020. Thereafter, all the accused left Delhi by train and reached Mumbai on March 7, 2020. At the time, all those who had assembled at the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz in Delhi’s Nizamuddin were tested when they reached the other places across the country. Some of them tested positive for Covid. Likewise, when the 12 members arrived in Mumbai, they were also sent to a quarantine centre in Mumbai and tested for the virus where 10 were tested negative and two were found positive for the virus.
The Counsel relied upon the ruling of Bombay High Court in the case of Konan Kodio Ganstone and ors. v. State of Maharashtra [Criminal Writ Petition No. 548/2020] and submitted that the Bombay High Court discharged the accused of the same offences in the said matter, after giving detailed reasons.
The court observed that even the Investigating Officer in Form 5E has acknowledged that the accused were not liable in spreading Covid or caused the death of any person. Under section 14(b) of the Foreigners Act, the court also noted that the accused were not responsible for any breach of their VISA condition.
The news about Tablighi Jamaat attendees’ irresponsible behaviour in the pandemic has been doing the rounds since March but the Hon’ble High Courts have offered some glimmer of hope.
Bombay High Court
On August 21, 2020 the Division bench of Justices T.V. Nalawade and M.G. Sewlikar quashed FIRs registered against 29 foreign nationals and six Indian citizens. The court said that though certain restrictions are put on the foreigners who come to India on tourist visas, there is no restriction on them to visit religious places to attend the normal religious activities like attending religious discourse. It further noted that all the foreign nationals entered India on a valid tourist visa in February or in March, but before March 10. “Activity of Tablighi Jamaat got stalled only after declaration of lock down in Delhi and till then it was going on. There is nothing on the record to show that this activity is prohibited permanently by the Government. These things need to be kept in mind while considering the cases filed against the petitioners,” noted the court.
The court also recognised the criminalisation of foreign nationals through news platforms and the malicious intent behind the FIR’s. “There was big propaganda in print media and electronic media against the foreigners who had come to Markaz Delhi and an attempt was made to create a picture that these foreigners were responsible for spreading covid-19 virus in India. There was virtually persecution against these foreigners. A political Government tries to find the scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is probability that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats,” the Bench commented.
A broader and more detailed analysis of this judgment may be read here.
Madras High Court
On June 12, 2020 the Madras High Court granted bail to 31 participants and directed to release the petitioners on their own bond that can be submitted online before a magistrate. The applicants were arrested in April for participating in the religious congregation in violation of the lockdown. The Single Judge Bench of Justice G.R. Swaminathan said that “They are normal human beings. They are now stuck in alien surroundings. The petitioners came here propelled by a sense of religious idealism. But their mission went awry. They are now eager to go back to their families.” Noting the petitioners have been in prison for more than two months, the bench remarked their “acts have not prejudiced public tranquillity.”
Allahabad High Court
On June 9, 2020 the Allahabad High Court granted interim Bail to six Bangladeshi nationals while granting permission to reside at the place mentioned in the tourist Visas and were given liberty to receive disclosed financial support from their relatives in Bangladesh or anyone in India and if necessary, directed the government to provide them financial support. The court also suggested that the Centre enter into a dialogue with the Government of Bangladesh and decide upon the criminal case without having to resort to a criminal trial, to avoid the same.
On October 5, 2020 the Allahabad High Court had ordered that the criminal cases against members of the Tablighi Jamaat registered in different districts of Uttar Pradesh be heard by three Chief Judicial Magistrates (CJM) of Lucknow, Bareilly and Meerut. In an order passed by a Division Bench comprising Justices Shashi Kant Gupta and Shamim Ahmed, the court observed that all the cases against the Jamaat members be heard and decided by the three CJM courts within eight weeks. The Bench ordered that the Registrar General monitor the progress of the cases transferred to the CJMs and submit a report within three months to the Allahabad High Court Chief Justice as reported by The Indian Express.
The order may be read here: