‘Without criticism society dies, turns into a heap of sheep’: Sharjeel Imam’s counsel tells court

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By Ubair Ul Hameed

New Delhi: A Delhi Court, on Monday, heard a bail application filed by Sharjeel Imam in connection to the speeches at the Aligarh Muslim University and Delhi’s Jamia area.

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Advocate Tanveer Mir, appearing on behalf of Sharjeel Imam said, “There is nothing in Sharjeel’s speech which called for any kind of violence, nothing on record which directly or indirectly called for violence which is a sine qua non of the offence.”

He added “fundamentally the right of protest, right to blockage, right to bring the country to a standstill is not equal to the act of Sedition”.
“What society will be a society if it’s not robust or what doesn’t react. It will be a heap of sheep,” Mir further added.

Mir read relevant portions of the judgments in Gurjatinder Pal Singh v. State of Punjab, which was delivered by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, and Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, which were similar cases to Imam’s. He had previously submitted all of these references to the Court and the prosecution. SPP Amit Prasad, on the other hand, denied receiving such a submission.

To which Advocate Mir read out the referred judgments in the Court.
“Criticism of public measures or comment on Government action, however strongly worded, would be within reasonable limits and would be consistent with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression,” Advocate Mir said, citing the Court’s benchmark judgement from the reference.

“When Sharjeel Imam says that this piece of legislation is per se unconstitutional, prejudicial to one community in India, and he seeks the government to take back and rethink, and he says if you don’t do it, we will be on the streets,” Sharjeel’s counsel argued adding that Sharjeel won’t be able to be charged with sedition”

“Critical elements in our society are also necessary because, in a society where criticism dies, the society will die,” he said, emphasising the importance of dissent in making society more inclusive.

“Sharjeel Imam is not a member of any banned organisation,” he said, adding “On the charge sheet, he is not listed as a member of a terrorist gang. He’s just a student, after all. If there is no call for violence, sedition under section 13 of the UAPA cannot be used, at least in bail.”

“There is a viewpoint to look at any speech delivered, there’s nothing in the law that says a certain point can’t be made. That is true, but will it make a difference whether the speech is delivered in front of an audience, in a hall, or in private? Will these variables have an impact?,” the Court said.

“Courageous men in this country will not be charged with sedition, this is our solemn responsibility. The viewpoint of Sharjeel Imam is not hostile. The government has a strategy and will employ every trick at its disposal. It’s not about you, it’s about politics. He’s not a politician, but rather a researcher,” Mir argued.

“What their argument hinges on is whether Sedition and sec. 13 UAPA is made out or not,” SPP Amit Prasad told the court in his counterargument. “…Because the gist remains the same, we can argue both rebuttal and charge arguments together.”

He asked the court to give him more time to present his case.
The Court set the next hearing for September 1st, based on the assumption that it would examine a prima facie case.

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