New Delhi [India] : The Delhi High Court on Tuesday held that the December 2019 protests organised at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia was an unlawful assembly and the mob gathered at the spot with the intention to violate the law.
“The common object of the assembly was to march to the Parliament for registration of their protest against the Government policies of NRC and CAB where a curfew was imposed by the authorities,” the Delhi High Court on Tuesday said, adding that making efforts to reach that area and carry out protest there was an “unlawful” object itself. The Delhi High Court held the view while setting aside the order of the trial court discharging Sharjeel Imam and 10 others.
Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma said that as per the prosecution, section 144 Cr.P.C. was already imposed in the area near Parliament.
“Therefore, making efforts to reach to a curfew imposed area and carry out protest therein was an unlawful object itself,” justice Sharma held in the judgement.
The High Court while deciding the revision petition considered the video clips placed on record by the police as significant evidence.
The court said that the same was also brought to the notice of the crowd repeatedly by the concerned police officers by way of repeated announcements which can be clearly seen and heard in video clip number 2.
The high court also noted that the assembly was large and turned violent and pushed the barricades.
The court said, ” Even otherwise, the mob was stopped by the police by creating a line of barricades, but the assembly had become so large and was pelting stones, was armed with tyres and dandas, and were shouting, standing on the barricades and violently pushing the same, and if at all they were trying to exercise the fundamental right of freedom of expression, by their unlawful acts of violence as discussed above their assembly had turned unlawful.”
“Thus, the very means of achieving the object of reaching the Parliament, where prohibitory orders under section 144 Cr.P.C. was in place, were not lawful also,” the court observed.
Thus, as contended on behalf of the state and visible from the video clips, the common unlawful object which was created at the spot was reaching the curfew-bound area and using force and violence against the police officers to achieve the said object, the court further observed.
The bench said that the main aim of their initial protest against the government policy was lost in the violence and in their persistence to break the law to reach a curfew-bound area by use of violence and force against people and objects.
The bench also held that the use of force and violence by the mob is sufficient, at prima facie stage of framing of charge, for constituting the offence of unlawful assembly and rioting.
The bench also noted from the video clips that the police were telling the assembly to protest peacefully.
The court said that nowhere in the video clips, the police officers are seen announcing that the protesters cannot protest, rather they were told to protest peacefully which was their right.
“However, the police were duty bound to stop them from proceeding to a place where section 144 Cr.P.C was imposed and also considering their violent behaviour, the apprehension and the fear that such violent mob while marching to the Parliament could be a threat to law and order situation in Delhi, cannot be found at fault at this stage as the behaviour of the crowd even in the video clips will show that such apprehension was not purely unfounded,” the bench held.
On the basis of the video clips, the court held that the mob was trying to stop police from performing their duty of maintaining law and order.
The court said that it is also clear from the video clips that the mob was trying to stop the police officers from discharging their duty of maintaining law and order and were breaking the barricades and crossing over them, on which human chain of police was trying to hold on to so that the mob could not proceed to a curfew bound area.
“Therefore, they were doing their duty and they were stopped from doing so by pelting stones and by pushing the barricades against all of them,” the court said.
The court pointed out, “Had the crowd of thousands of protesters been able to push the barricades against the police officers, in which they partly succeeded to, they would have caused grievous injuries to them considering how heavy the barricades are.”
Justice Sharma held, ” Prima facie, in the situation which is visible in the video clips including video clip number 3, the respondents in question are clearly visible being in the first line of the mob, pushing the barricades against the police officers and raising slogans.
“It is difficult to explain in words; the entire action being unfolded as it is clearly visible in the said video clip, the force used by Delhi Police is only of trying to hold on to the barricades against the violent mob which is also raising slogans of “Delhi Police Murdabad” and”Delhi Police Doob Maro” and are very violently pushing the barricades against the handful of policemen who were holding off the barricades,” justice Sharma held.
The high court rejected the submissions that the accused persons were mere bystanders in the protest.
The court said that they were consciously part of the assembly which had turned violent and consciously did not leave the place of such violence and chose to remain part of it by insisting on going to a curfew-imposed area.
“They would have also known that while they were pushing the barricades against those few policemen, in case they would have succeeded, grievous injuries would have been caused to the police officers,” the court added.
“They were, therefore, with the violent mob of protesters and it cannot be distinguished that they did not have the object collectively as that of the entire mob. Even otherwise to reiterate, the law of rioting envisages vicarious liability of each participant of an unlawful assembly, ” Justice Sharma said.