There has to be laxman rekha for criticism: HC to Khalid

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The Delhi High Court on Wednesday said there has to be a “Laxman rekha” even for criticism while expressing displeasure over the use of the term “jumla” for the Prime Minister by former JNU student Umar Khalid in his speech.

“This ‘jumla’ is used for the PM of India. Is that proper? There has to be a line drawn for criticism too. There has to be a ‘laxman rekha’,” remarked the High Court while hearing the bail plea of Mr. Khalid, arrested in connection with the north-east Delhi riots case.

A Bench of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar asked senior advocate Trideep Pais, representing Mr. Khalid, to explain certain statements made by the activist in a speech given at Amravati in Maharashtra in February 2020.

The court asked the senior lawyer to explain the meaning of the words “ krantikaari” and “ inqualabi” used in the speech and said it was to be seen whether the speech “led to violence at any stage”.

The court clarified that “nobody has any quarrel” with free speech but the consequence of the speech was to be examined in the present case. “What is the consequence of you (Khalid) employing these expressions (in the speech) — offensive as they evidently are. Did the speech incite the populous in Delhi?” asked the court.

Mr. Pais contended that the statements made by Mr. Khalid were not illegal and “criticism of the government cannot become a crime”.

‘No violence call’

Mr. Pais said Mr. Khalid’s speech did not call for any violence. Also, it was not contemporaneously uploaded on YouTube, nor was it widely circulated.

The counsel said the allegation of commission of the offence of Section 124A IPC (sedition) or any reaction in Delhi on account of the speech was “unfounded, unlikely and more than remote”.

“It may not meet with everyone’s approval when a person speaks like that… Is it a crime? By no stretch of the imagination it is a crime. We cannot go by our sense of morality and correctness,” Mr. Pais argued.

“583 days in prison for UAPA is not what is envisaged for a person who speaks against the government. We can’t become so intolerant,” he said.

Mr. Khalid, arrested on September 13, 2020, is facing charges under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for allegedly being one of the “masterminds” and one of the main conspirators and instigators behind the north-east Delhi riots.

Mr. Khalid sought bail on the grounds that he was not present when the violence broke out andthe case is based on “cooked-up statements”.

The High Court will hear the case again on April 28.


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