Sharjeel Imam

Engineering graduate from IIT Bombay, doctoral student at Jawaharlal Nehru University and anti CAA activist slapped with sedition and subsequently arrested in Delhi Riots conspiracy case.


Sharjeel Imam (born 1988) is an Indian activist, IITian and scholar from Kako village of Jehanabad in Bihar. He is best known for his participation in the Citizenship Amendment Act Protests. He has completed his B.Tech. and M.Tech. from IIT-Bombay and joined Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2013 to complete his master’s degree in Modern History and in 2015 he started Ph.D. from the same university. During the anti-CAA protests, he was charged with sedition in five states of India for speeches he gave in Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. He surrendered to Delhi Police on 28 January 2020 after facing an organised hate campaign online. Police alleged that his incendiary speeches incited university students to turn violent. Months after his arrest, he was booked in the larger conspiracy case FIR 59/2020 for allegedly conspiring to cause disaffection against India by orchestrating riots in Delhi during the visit of American President Donald Trump. Notably, he was already in jail when the Delhi riots took place.

Life and Activism

His father Akbar Imam was a politician, a Janata Dal (United) candidate in the Jehanabad constituency in the 2005 assembly election; his mother, Afshan Rahim is a homemaker, and his brother Muzzammil Imam is a social activist. In 2014, his father died of cancer after a prolonged illness. He did his schooling at a missionary school in Patna, and later at the Delhi Public School, Vasant Kunj. His teachers considered him a bibliophile. He completed computer engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. After graduation, he spent two years in Bengaluru, where he worked in a software company. In 2013, he joined Jawaharlal Nehru University to complete his master’s degree in Modern History and started a Ph.D. in 2015 at the same university.

He worked at the IT University of Copenhagen as a programmer for two months in 2009 and later worked as a teaching assistant at IIT Bombay. After that, he worked as an engineer at Juniper Networks before returning to academics. He also wrote articles for TRT World, Firstpost, The Quint, and The Wire. He initially appeared as an active volunteer of the Anti-CAA Protest at Shaheen Bagh, Delhi.


The police said that Imam made two “very inflammatory and instigatory speeches in his opposition to CAA and NRC” on 13 December 2019 and 16 January 2020. The latter speech was 40 minutes long; in a three-minute-long viral video of that speech, he could be heard calling for Assam to be “cut off” from the rest of the country by blocking the Siliguri corridor also known as “Chicken’s Neck”, which he explained was call for “chakka jam” — a legitimate form of protest in India. Citing the Brandenburg versus Ohio ruling, former Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju came out in defense of Sharjeel, arguing for quashing of FIRs against him, saying that “he has not committed a crime”, even though he disapproves of his speech. Sharjeel Imam’s arrest was widely condemned by politicians, teachers, students, activists and other organizations. The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union said that his arrest is a matter of “Islamophobia, selective amnesia & bias” of the state apparatus. JNU Teachers’ Association alleged that the sedition charge was invoked due to “other reasons” and that it reflects the “politicisation” of the conduct of law enforcement agencies.
One hundred and forty-eight students and alumni of various IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and over a hundred students from Jamia Millia Islamia, AMU and other state universities signed a letter in his support and alleged that a few minutes of his speech were cherry-picked to misrepresent what he said to make it appear hateful and objectionable. A group of students hailing from Bihar and studying in prominent institutions, including Jawaharlal Nehru University and IIT Delhi, wrote an open letter to RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav urging him to demand the release of Imam, highlighting Imam’s contribution as an academician, student, historian and journalist.

Over 50 activists were booked under sedition charges by Mumbai Police for raising slogans in support of Sharjeel Imam at a Pride Solidarity gathering in February 2020. In January 2021, several student organizations at Delhi University demanded the immediate release of Sharjeel one year after his imprisonment.

Circumstances of Arrest

On 28 January 2020, Sharjeel Imam surrendered to Delhi police for allegedly delivering inflammatory speeches against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). He was also booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. After his arrest, he was taken to Assam and is held in Guwahati Central Jail. Whilst in prison, he was infected with COVID-19 and tested positive for it on 21 July 2020. His prison holds slightly more than 1,000 inmates; at least 435 inmates had tested positive for covid by 22 July 2020. He was subsequently shifted to Tihar jail in Delhi, where he remains lodged.

Charges & Allegations

Five Indian states filed various cases against Imam, including Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Delhi. On 25 January 2020, Assam Police registered a First Information Report (FIR) against Imam for his speech under section 13 (1)/18 of UAPA ACT read with sections 153A, 153B and 124A of Indian Penal Code (IPC). On the same day, Aligarh Police in Uttar Pradesh also registered a case against him for sedition and creating enmity between two groups.

Manipur police also filed an FIR against him for waging war against the Indian government, sedition, indulging in vilification, attacks on a particular group or conspiracy to commit offences. The police filed the FIR for his remarks about “cutting off” northeast from the rest of the country under FIR number 16(1)2020 IPC under sections 121/121-A/124-A/120-B/153 IPC. On 26 January 2020, Arunachal Pradesh’s Itanagar police filed an FIR against him under sections 124(A), 153(A) and 153(B) of the Indian Penal Code for sedition, promoting enmity between groups. The Delhi police filed an FIR under the Indian Penal Code’s section 153 in addition to the charges of sedition and promoting religious enmity. Finally, he was booked in the Delhi Riots conspiracy case and another UAPA was slapped on him.

Latest update

On 29 July 2020, Delhi Court issued a summon against him in the case related to his alleged inflammatory speech. Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana, after viewing the charge sheet filed against him under UAPA, asked him to appear in court on 1 September 2020. The court took this decision due to the coronavirus pandemic and said that if his physical appearance is not possible, then he can be presented via video conferencing. In April 2022, a District Court in Delhi denied bail to him in the larger conspiracy case, stating that the allegations were “prima facie true“. His cases are now pending before the Delhi High court.

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