The Delhi High Court Friday asked the Centre and the police to respond to pleas by 24 foreigners seeking quashing of FIRs against them for attending Tablighi Jamaat event here and allegedly indulging in missionary activities in violation of visa norms and breaching anti-COVID-19 guidelines.
Justice Anuj Jairam Bhambhani, conducting the hearing through video conferencing, asked the Centre and Delhi Police to file their status reports on the issue before the next date of hearing, August 10.
The court was informed that these 24 foreigners, who have filed two separate petitions, have already admitted their guilt in the FIR lodged by the crime branch of Delhi Police in the matter and pleaded for lenient punishments under the provisions of plea bargaining.
They were allowed to walk free on payment of varying fines and pleading guilty for minor offences related to the COVID-19 lockdown violations, the counsel for the foreigners said.
However, they are not able to fly back to their countries due to the pendency of other FIRs lodged at Seelampur police station, said senior advocate Rebecca John, representing the foreign nationals.
When the petitioners wanted to go back to their countries, it transpired that a second FIR is also pending against them and the charge sheet has been filed before the trial court, she said.
She contended that the police cannot lodge separate FIRs for the same alleged offence and they are unable to go back due to look out circulars (LOCs) being opened against them.
She said while the first FIR was lodged on March 31, this second FIR by the Seelampur police was registered on April 1, as they were staying in a masjid there and the police then took them to a quarantine centre.
In the two petitions filed by advocates Ashima Mandla and Mandakini Singh, the petitioners have sought quashing of two FIRs registered at police station Seelampur under various sections of IPC and the Epidemic Diseases Act.
The petitioners said that the FIRs registered at Seelampur are untenable in law in light of foreign nationals having entered plea bargaining in same charges registered by crime branch.
They have also sought directions to the respondents to close the LoC issued qua foreign national petitioners.
In the case being probed by the crime branch, the foreign national petitioners have duly entered plea bargaining and consequent deportation orders have been issued by the court.
They said that the allegations in the FIRs before this court are similar to the FIR of crime branch, in which 911 of the 955 foreigner jamaatis have entered into plea bargaining
"Under the law, second FIR is impermissible and there is an operational bar from prosecution of same offences arising out of the corresponding cause of action under Article 20(2) of the constitution of India( widely known as doctrine of double jeopardy) as well as section 300 of the CrPC," the plea said.
In April, COVID-19 cases across the country spiked after hundreds of many Tablighi Jamaat members, who had attended the religious congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz in the national capital, tested positive.
At least 9,000 people, including the foreign nationals participated in the religious congregation in Nizamuddin. Later, many of the attendees travelled to various parts of the country.