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Tablighi Jamaat: Delhi Court Dismisses 35 Foreigners' Pleas Against Framing of Charges

File photo of Tablighi Jamaat at Delhi's Nizamuddin Markaz.

File photo of Tablighi Jamaat at Delhi's Nizamuddin Markaz.

During the hearing, senior advocate Rebecca John, appearing for the foreigners, said they have not been identified in the charge sheet as the only word used in it was "foreigners" and it has not been clarified as to who were these foreigners.

A Delhi court on Wednesday dismissed the pleas filed by 35 foreigners challenging the framing of charges against them for attending the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi's Nizamuddin by allegedly being negligent and disobeying the government's COVID-19 guidelines. Additional Sessions Judge Sandeep Yadav said sufficient material was placed by the police before the magistrate court to frame charges under the Epidemic Diseases Act, Disaster Management Act and sections 188 and 269 of IPC against the petitioners. "The court found no infirmity, illegality or irregularity in the impugned order. The revision petition is devoid of merit and the same is accordingly dismissed," said the similarly worded, but separate orders in the 35 pleas.

The magistrate court had on August 24 framed charges against 36 foreigners in all under sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 3 (disobeying regulation) of Epidemic Act, 1897. The charges were also framed under section 51 (obstruction) Disaster Management Act, 2005.

The court said that as per the charge sheet, a District Surveillance Team was sent to masjid to assess the ground situation and they had briefed the markaz organizers regarding social distancing and use of sanitizer and masks, etc. "However, none of the precautionary directions were followed by markaz at Bangalewali Masjid, Hazarat Nizamuddin, New Delhi…," the court said. It further noted that the foreigners and other Tablighi Jamatis had disobeyed regulations and lockdown directions despite being repeatedly asked by local police and other authorities. "It must be borne in mind that while deciding the question of charge, the court cannot embark upon a detailed inquiry into the evidence collected during investigation. What is required to be seen at the stage of charge is as to whether there is prima facie case to frame charge or not. Strong suspicion about involvement of accused in the crime is sufficient to frame charge," it said.

During the hearing, senior advocate Rebecca John, appearing for the foreigners, said they have not been identified in the charge sheet as the only word used in it was "foreigners" and it has not been clarified as to who were these foreigners. John further argued that their presence at the event has not been proved.

Advocates Ashima Mandla and Mandakini Singh, also representing the foreigners, argued that the charge sheet said Malaysian citizens, who were leaving the country, were stopped from deportation by the authorities. John argued that while on one hand prosecution stated that foreigners failed to leave the country despite directions, on the other hand, foreigners, who were being deported were stopped.

The senior advocate further said that the foreigners were in the Markaz due to force of circumstances and there was no material on record to show that when the petitioner reached India, he was infected with corona disease. Additional Public Prosecutor Atul Srivastava, preparing for the police, opposed the pleas saying besides police officials, the foreigners have been identified by Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Defence Colony when he and other officers visited Tablighi Jamat. The public prosecutor further submitted that they cannot take advantage of the fact that the Investigating Officer at various places in the charge sheet has used the word 'foreigners' instead of naming the petitioners.

The magistrate court had earlier discharged the foreignes for the offences under section 14 (1) (b) (violation of visa norms) of Foreigners Act, sections 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 271 (Disobedience to quarantine rule) of IPC. It had said there was not an iota of evidence to suggest that the accused had in any manner professed or propagated the principles and doctrines of the Tablighi Jamaat or had indulged in Tablighi work as alleged.

The punishment for the offences for which they have been charged ranges from six months to eight years of imprisonment. The pleas, filed through advocates Mandla and Singh, claimed that the magistrate court has "grossly erred" in exercising its power and framing charges in the absence of "a shred of prima facie evidence either indicative of or incriminating" the accused qua allegations so levelled.

"Conveniently so, the Prosecution has failed to come forward with any record thereby indicating let alone establishing the presence of the accused person inside the Markaz in the intervening duration between March 12-31," the pleas had alleged. They had further claimed that the prosecution has levelled unsubstantiated allegations against the foreigners in connection with Tablighi Jamaat by making inaccurate statements that people from Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries attended the religious congregation acting as coronavirus carriers.

They had said the magistrate court had failed to appreciate that even in the eventuality of foreign nationals being housed at Markaz pursuant to the nation-wide lockdown in the wake of the pandemic, it was nothing more than ''force of circumstances'' as there was disruption in the operation of international flights to and fro as early as March 12 and March 16 and subsequently a complete ban from March 21 till April 15 at the first instance.


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