In yet another case connected to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation of 2020, the Delhi High Court has been hearing a matter against Indian nationals for giving shelter to foreign attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat. The HC has directed the Delhi Police to inform it whether the Indian nationals, who allegedly housed foreign attendees, did so before or after issuance of the notifications imposing Covid-related restrictions in Delhi.
The court has sought a detailed status report as it is dealing with petitions challenging the 12 FIRs against 48 persons accused of allowing foreign nationals to live together in their houses after they attended the congregation. Justice Mukta Gupta asked the police to indicate the role of each accused and apprise it when the foreign nationals were housed in mosques or homes of the accused in Old Delhi, reported Indian Express.
In a status report filed earlier this year, the Delhi Police had said they had violated the directions issued by Delhi government that all religious places of any denomination shall be closed and any congregation is strictly prohibited.
The petitioners have argued that the only allegations against them is of accommodating foreign nationals inside their houses when the country was locked down. Yet, the offences invoked against them include serious sections of the law, such as sections 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 269 and 270 (Negligent and malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) as well as 120B (criminal conspiracy). These offenses were commonly invoked against persons found in violation of Covid norms imposed by the government last year. The offence of criminal conspiracy was, however, reserved for special circumstances like the Jamaat itself. As is evident from the reading of the charges invoked against them, none of these pertain to the allegation made against them of giving shelter to Jamaat members. Firstly, giving shelter to Jamaat members is not an offence in itself. Further, it does not really amount to violation of the government order as the same does not mention that it was illegal to give shelter to people during the pandemic.
In fact, in January, Sessions Court in Dhanbad, Jharkhand had discharged 10 Indonesian nationals after they were found taking shelter in a mosque during the national lockdown. While the court did not comment on the role of the mosque secretary or president who offered them shelter, the court did take note of the situation they had landed in, due to the national lockdown. The court had observed that they entered India with a valid visa and only because of nationwide lockdown announced on March 24, 2020 they were unable to leave.
In the past year, one by one, these cases against Jamaat members came up before courts across the country and one by one they were either discharged from the offences or they were granted bail. Sabrangindia’s analysis of these multiple orders, reveals that the Courts have not just bailed out Tablighi members, but have seriously questioned the charges invoked against them, quashing the cases filed against them have emerged.
Some of these cases include Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court quashing FIR and chargesheet filed against 8 Myanmar nationals on September 21, 2020 whereby the court observed that there is no material on record to prove that applicants had indulged in any act which was likely to spread infection of Covid -19 and hence, no evidence to substantiate the fulfillment of ingredients of Sections 269 and 270 of IPC.
Further, on August 21, 2020, the Aurangabad Bench of Bombay High Court quashed FIRs against 29 foreign nationals and 6 Indians. The court had rightly pointed out that though restrictions are put on the foreigners who come to India on tourist visas to prevent them from engaging in Tablighi activity, there is no restriction on them to visit religious places to attend the normal religious activities like attending religious discourse. The court also highlighted that many Muslims from all over the word come to India as they are attracted to the reform movement of Tabligh Jamaat and that there is nothing on the record to show that this activity (Jamaat) is prohibited permanently by the Government. The court also observed that “there is nothing on the record to show that the Indians were prevented from accommodating persons in the Masjid or from supplying meals to the persons including the foreigners.”
These are some important observations made by courts when dealing with cases related to the Tablighi Jamaat. A congregation that was vilified on a mass scale and was wrongly pitted in the media as an event responsible for the spread of Covid-19 in the country, ought to be redeemed and washed off the false allegations made against its members, which are clearly not being found valid in the courts of law. The police have, irrespective of in which city or state the cases were registered, not been able to produce any material to show a criminal offence. Some courts even pointed out that cases were registered without application of mind and in a rather mechanical fashion.
Sixteen months after 11 state governments also filed 205 FIRs against 2,765 foreign nationals for allegedly violating visa terms and intentionally disregarding Covid-19 guidelines, not one member of the Tablighi Jamaat, a back-to-roots Islamic movement, has been convicted by any court.
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