Aligarh: “We are very happy that bhai is finally home; and we thank everyone who extended their support, without which this wouldn’t have been possible.”
That was what Areeb Usmani, younger brother of student activist Sharjeel Usmani, 23, said to Article 14 after Sharjeel was released from Aligarh jail on 1 September after 56 days in prison.
Charged with 15 sections of four laws, Usmani, a political science graduate of Aligarh Muslim University, was released on bail by a local court, which said keeping him in jail for his alleged participation in protests against a new citizenship law would “serve no purpose at all”.
“In consideration of the undergone period in jail by the accused and his academic records, inter alia, the case is fit and proper to grant bail to the accused,” said a 24 August 2020 order passed by Special Judge Narendra Singh at the Aligarh District and Sessions Court.
The court mentioned Usmani’s academic record. “He has written many articles which are also available on records,” said the bail order.
Usmani’s lawyer Aley Nabi said in court that he had been “implicated falsely in every case”. “The accused was not at all on the place of occurrence on the date of crime allegedly averred by the prosecution,” said Nabi. “He was not even being arrested from that place. No illegal material was recovered from his possession, he does not even have any criminal antecedents.”
Usmani was picked up by Uttar Pradesh police in plain clothes on 8 July 2020 from Azamgarh for his alleged participation in protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, or CAA, from the Aligarh Muslim University in December 2019.
Usmani was among 26 against whom a first information report (FIR) was filed on 15 December 2019 after a police crackdown on anti-CAA protests at the Aligarh Muslim University campus. Others have been granted bail on 19 March 2020 and 29 July 2020, the order said.
Bail was granted on the condition that he will be present before the court when asked, failing which he or someone he knows has to pay an amount of Rs 50,000.
After his arrest on 8 July 2020, Usmani was sent to 14-day judicial custody by the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Aligarh a day later.
The police themselves filed three FIRs against Usmani and another was filed after a complaint by Prateek Chauhan, a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for a Facebook post.
The FIRs were registered under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 189 (threat of injury to public servant), 332 (voluntarily hurting a public servant during duty), 336 (endangering life or personal safety of others), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of duty), 504 (insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), 506 (criminal intimidation); section 7 of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2019; section 3 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984; and section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
Statements condemning Usmani’s arrest and asking for his release were issued by Amnesty India, Committee to Protect Journalists, The Polis Project, and activists of various other organisations, who criticised Usmani’s arrest.
On 10 July 2020, citing Usmani’s arrest as a violation of due process, Amnesty India had quoted the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court of India in the case of D K Basu vs. State of West Bengal, and had questioned police accountability.
Usmani was granted bail on the same day as fellow anti-CAA protestors Kafeel Khan and Devangana Kalita. Khan was granted bail by the Allahabad High Court after 217 days in jail and Kalita, who has been in jail for 102 days now, by the Delhi High Court. Kalita has got bail in three of four cases, but she will remain in judicial custody in Delhi’s Tihar jail because the fourth case is under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, which puts the burden of proof on the accused.
(Faizi Ahmad is a journalist based in Aligarh.)