Indian activist Umar Khalid has been released from New Delhi’s Tihar Jail for a week to attend his sister’s wedding, more than two years after he was arrested for alleged involvement in the 2020 riots in the country’s capital.
Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat on Friday granted the relief to Khalid, who had sought two weeks in his bail application. But the judge also imposed stiff conditions on Khalid in awarding him the temporary reprieve, asking him to avoid speaking with the news media or even communicating on social media.
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Khalid was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA— which human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have described as draconian — and provisions of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly being a mastermind of the February 2020 riots, which had left 53 people dead and more than 700 injured.
The violence had erupted during nationwide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), initiatives of the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi that critics said discriminated against Muslims.
Khalid, aged 34, had previously been denied bail by a different set of judges. New Delhi Police has also consistently opposed bail for the former student leader. But Khalid’s case contrasts sharply with the manner in which the Indian justice system has dealt with allegations of hate speech by members of the far-right aligned with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, activists said.
Kavita Krishnan, a feminist activist based in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that “the Indian government uses tough laws to discriminate between accused people”. She cited the example of Yati Narsinghanand, a far-right priest who has openly called for genocide against Muslims, yet secured bail after his arrest has been out of jail for months, even as he stands accused of hate speech.
“Yati Narsinghanad, who called for Muslim genocide, is charged under a law that is not meant for serious crimes,” Krishnan said. It is easier for him to get bail. But if you charge someone under UAPA or law of that kind the bail is extremely difficult to get.”
People accused the UAPA can languish for years in jails without even a trial.
Krishnan said that the government is using the UAPA “to target people who it views as dissenters”. She argued the government knows that even if its critics like Khalid are eventually acquitted because of a lack of evidence, they will have spent several years in prison.
Apoorvanand, a Hindi professor at the University of Delhi, said “Umar Khalid and other activists are being punished for being Muslims and raising their voices.”
Muslims and other anti-establishment protesters whom the government labels as “urban Naxals” – a reference to an armed Maoist movement – are the only ones charged under the UAPA, he said. “If you fall under these two categories and if you dare to oppose the state, then life is bound to be miserable for you,” he said.