Who is Sharjeel Imam and why has he been denied bail in connection to CAA and NRC protests

He came to the social media spotlight, courtesy a video that went viral in January 2020, where he was allegedly heard ‘instigating people’ to cut Assam off India during a speech at the Aligarh Muslim University on 16 December, 2019

A Delhi court on Friday (22 October), denied bail to ex-JNU student Sharjeel Imam in connection with allegedly giving an inflammatory speech on at Jamia Millia Islamia on 13 December, 2019, and inciting violence during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Delhi’s Saket Court Additional Sessions Judge Anuj Aggarwal while dismissing the bail observed that “a cursory and plain reading of the speech dated December 13, 2019, reveals that same is clearly on communal/divisive lines. In my view, the tone and tenor of the incendiary speech tend to have a debilitating effect upon public tranquillity, peace and harmony of the society.”

Who is Sharejeel Imam?

Sharjeel Imam, is a JNU PhD scholar studying modern Indian history at the Centre for Historical Studies (CHS).

Having done his masters in computer science graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, Imam briefly held a job with a software company before leaving it in 2017 to take up studying history at JNU, the Hindustan Times reported.

His comes from a political family, namely his father, who was former Janata Dal(United) leader late Akbar Imam. He is the eldest of two brothers and his father contested the Assembly elections in Bihar on JD(U) ticket.

History of protest involvements

Sharjeel came to the social media spotlight, courtesy a video that went viral in January 2020, where he was allegedly heard  ‘instigating people’ to cut Assam off India during a speech at the Aligarh Muslim University on 16 December, 2019. Imam had allegedly said that if five lakh people came together, they could cut northeast off India.

A few days after the video went viral Imam was arrested Imam was arrested from his hometown Jehanabad in Bihar on 28 January, shows a report by The Hindu.

Imam has since clarified that he was speaking of road blockades, but he has been in police custody since January 2020.

Imam was also associated with the anti-citizenship law protest in Shaheen Bagh till he “called it off” on 2 January, citing political interference and growing threat of violence.

Cases against Imam

Imam has various cases against him, including under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), in five states — Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Delhi.

What happened on 25 January, 2020?

The Assam Police was the first to register an FIR under the anti-terror law (and various other IPC sections) against Imam on 25 January.

On the same day Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh Police booked him for sedition and creating enmity between different religious groups.

And the trend continued with Manipur as well, where he was charged under several IPC sections – including sedition 124(A) – but not the UAPA.

What occurred on 26 January, 2020?

The very next day, on the occasion of Republic Day, the Arunachal Pradesh Police registered a case of sedition against him.

The Delhi Crime Branch, followed suit by registering an FIR under IPC’s section 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) along with charges of sedition and promoting religious enmity.

It is important to note here that if Imam is convicted under IPC’s Section 124(A) related to sedition, he could be imprisoned for life.

Why was Imam’s bail rejected on 22 October, 2021?

The Delhi Court today, while dismissing Imam’s bail plea, quoted Swami Vivekananda – “We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think; Words are secondary; Thoughts live; they travel far.”

According to Delhi Police, Imam allegedly delivered a provocative speech on December 13, 2019, which resulted in riots two days later when a mob consisting of over 3,000 people attacked police personnel and torched several vehicles in the Jamia Nagar area.

The judge, however, noted that the evidence in support of the allegations that the rioters got instigated by Imam’s speech and thereafter indulged in the acts of rioting, mischief, attacking the police party, was scanty and sketchy.

On 4 October, Imam had told Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat during his bail hearing that he was not a terrorist and that his prosecution was a “whip of a monarch rather than a government established by law”.

Advocate Tanveer Ahmed Mir, representing Imam, had then told the court that being critical of the government could not be a cause of sedition and that it was the duty of every citizen to be critical of the government. He charged that there were many prosecutions against Imam just because he had criticized the government’s policies.

“He is not a terrorist or associated with some terrorist outfit. He has no criminal antecedents. He does not have any political agenda,” Mir told the court.

Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad retorted saying that the fundamental right to protest could not go beyond an extent that causes problems to the public at large.

Prasad told the court that violent riots took place pursuant to Imam’s speech. “He tried to create an anarchy by saying that there is no hope left for the Muslim community and that there is no other way left,” Prasad said, opposing his bail and discharge in the case.

Besides this case, Imam is also accused of being the “mastermind” of the February 2020 northeast Delhi riots, which had left 53 people dead and over 700 injured.

Imam is accused of offenses relating to sedition, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, imputations prejudicial to national integration, and public mischief under the Indian Penal Code, and indulging in unlawful activities under the UAPA.

With inputs from agencies

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