Student-activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha – who were granted bail two days ago after spending more than a year in jail over alleged links to last year’s Delhi riots – have approached the Delhi High Court seeking their immediate release.
“The continuing custody despite clear mandate of law, beyond 24 hours since direction to verify sureties, is illegal. Direct the authorities to release us forthwith,” the three said in their plea.
The High Court on Tuesday highlighted the distinction between the “right to protest” and terrorist activity as it permitted all three bail. It also said that “in its (the government) anxiety to suppress dissent” the line between the two was “getting somewhat blurred”.
All three were released on personal bonds of Rs 50,000 each and two sureties of a similar amount.
Other conditions included surrender of passports and undertakings that they would not engage in criminal activities or interfere with ongoing investigations.
On Wednesday Delhi Police filed a last-minute petition with the trial court seeking to delay their release; they claimed procedural delays in verifying sureties and addresses of all three activists.
Among the delays they claimed was verification of Aadhaar details of the three activists.
As it began the hearing today, the High Court slammed the police over this detail.
“You have sought time to verify Aadhaar numbers? Where does Aadhaar come into the picture? Do you follow this process in other cases?” the court asked of Delhi Police, which had been sharply questioned yesterday by the trial court over the delays.
On Wednesday Ms Narwal, Ms Kalita and Mr Tanha moved the trial court seeking their release after the police failed to honour the 1 pm deadline set by the High Court.
The police told the court it needed three days to complete verification – one for sureties and two for verifying ‘permanent’ addresses of the accused.
To this the activists’ lawyer shot back that it was their Delhi residences listed on arrest documents.
“Charge sheet lists address as Delhi. Arrest memo shows Delhi address. Parents’ address (hometowns) isn’t our address here. As adults we rent a place and live in Delhi,” their lawyer said.
“Verification is the work of the police. Our work is to submit the bail bond… We have done our work. Can’t be in jail because police haven’t done their work,” the lawyer added.
Ms Narwal and Ms Kalita are JNU students associated with Pinjra Tod – a collective of women students of and alumni from colleges and universities across Delhi, who fight for women’s rights.
Mr Tanha is a student from Jamia Millia Islamia.
All three were arrested in May last over alleged links to riots in Delhi that followed widespread protests against controversial amendments to the citizenship law.
Over 50 people died and around 200 were injured in the violence that followed.