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Umar Khalid’s lawyer asks court whether sharing messages is terror act

New Delhi: Rebutting the Delhi Police’s argument that former JNU student Umar Khalid was creating social media narratives to influence bail hearings, his lawyer on Wednesday asked the court whether sharing WhatsApp messages is a criminal or terror act.

Khalid is an accused in the alleged larger conspiracy behind the 2020 northeast Delhi communal riots. He has been booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Additional Sessions Judge Sameer Bajpai was hearing the second bail plea of Khalid before the special court.

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“The special public prosecutor (SPP) says I created narratives. Is sharing messages (on WhatsApp) a criminal or terror act?… Is the court able to see the ridiculousness of their (prosecution’s) attempts to keep someone in jail? Is it wrong for me to forward a message saying someone is wrongly incarcerated? No,” Khalid’s counsel senior advocate Trideep Pais said.

SPP Amit Prasad had earlier said the data from Khalid’s mobile phone revealed that he was in contact with some actors, politicians, activists and celebrities to whom he sent some news portal links and other contents with a request to share them through their social media accounts to set a particular narrative and amplify it.

“Is there something wrong in sharing that he was going to be arrested? Am I restricted by the number of people I send messages to? Why can’t an accused forward news to someone else? This is the correct narrative,” Khalid’s counsel claimed.

He claimed that the prosecution had “repeatedly” mentioned Khalid’s name “like a mantra” to accuse him of inciting the riots. The counsel asked whether “repeating a lie a hundred times” could make it the truth.

The counsel also claimed that Khalid was subjected to a “vicious media trial” where news anchors of some TV channels were “reading from the chargesheet” round-the-clock.

The senior advocate besides claiming parity with other co-accused who were already granted bail, also reiterated that the Supreme Court’s view about “prima facie evidence” against an accused had changed because of the grant of bail to activist Vernon Gonsalves in July 2023 and to academic-activist Shoma Kanti Sen on April 5 this year in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case.

“The public prosecutor had said a test of Vernon Gonsalves and Sen was already done by the court earlier which denied me bail. That is incorrect,” the counsel said.

Underlining that being part of a WhatsApp group was not a terror act, Khalid’s counsel said, “Seventy-five per cent of the members of the group are not accused… They are out on bail. Why?”

“What terror act did Khalid commit? You must opine whether the witness statement prima facie makes a case of terror against me… Why was the chakka jam seen as a terror? Because the prosecution said so?” he added.

Prasad countered the argument of Khalid’s counsel that the court had to examine each witness and analyse each document while hearing the accused’s bail plea, saying only a “limited surface analysis” of the case was required.

He referred to the April 22 judgment passed by the Delhi High Court while dismissing the bail appeal of Salim Malik, who is an accused in a UAPA case linked to the alleged larger conspiracy behind the 2020 riots.

The high court had observed that for the grant of bail in UAPA cases, only a surface analysis of the probative value of the material is to be done by the courts. They are required to assess whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accusation made against an accused is prima facie true, it said.

The SPP also said Khalid was discharged from a rioting case registered by the Khajuri Khas police station after observing that the evidence against them pertained to the separate larger conspiracy case and not for the reason as sought to be canvassed by the defence that the witness statement was not found trustworthy.

The matter has been posted on May 7 for further proceedings.

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