Umar Khalid: Activist denied bail in Delhi riots case

An Indian court has denied bail to a prominent activist arrested 18 months ago for allegedly instigating riots in the national capital, Delhi.

Umar Khalid was accused of being a “key conspirator” in the violent clashes that killed 53 people, mostly Muslims, in February 2020.

Mr Khalid denied the charges, saying he only took part in a peaceful protest.

He was one of several students and activists held for the violence under a draconian anti-terror law.

The bail order, which was first expected on 14 March, had been deferred thrice since then.

On Thursday, Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat said there was “no merit and substance” in Mr Khalid’s plea to be granted bail.

Mr Khalid’s father, Syed Qasim Rasool Ilyas, told the BBC that he was disappointed by the order and plans to appeal in a higher court. “Justice will prevail very soon,” he said.

The riots in Delhi occurred amid massive months-long protests against a contentious citizenship law.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) grants citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from three neighbouring Muslim-majority countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While critics say it’s anti-Muslim and runs counter to India’s secular values, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government insists that it gives amnesty to persecuted minorities.

Hundreds of thousands of people – both Hindus and Muslims – took to the streets to stage peaceful demonstrations against the law. But one protest in Delhi turned violent, sparking clashes between those in favour of and against the law.

The violence soon took a religious turn, leading to clashes between Hindus and Muslims.

As the violence spread and continued for three days, Hindu mobs targeted Muslim homes and shops, allegedly often with the help of police, according to Amnesty International. The BBC’s reporting also found incidents of police brutality and complicity during the riots.

It was one of the worst episodes of religious rioting in the city, and occurred during the visit of then US President Donald Trump.

Mr Khalid was accused of giving two inflammatory speeches that instigated protesters to block roads during Mr Trump’s visit.

They alleged he wanted to “spread propaganda internationally that atrocities were being conducted on minorities in India”. On the basis of this conspiracy, “Khalid and his associates got women and children to come out on the streets in Delhi to instigate riots”, the police said.

Mr Khalid challenged the claim and said the police had relied on an edited video clip while framing charges against him.

The police also allege that the violence was part of a larger conspiracy by anti-CAA protesters to defame Mr Modi’s government.

Several protesters and student leaders and activists who led them – such as Mr Khalid – were arrested in the wake of the riots.

They were all charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a stringent anti-terror law that makes it nearly impossible to get bail.

Last week, Ishrat Jahan, a former councillor from the opposition Congress party, was granted bail more than two years after she was arrested.

Mr Khalid was also arrested in 2016 on charges of “sedition”, along with another fellow student leader, Kanhaiya Kumar, for allegedly shouting “anti-India” slogans.

They both denied the charges and were released on bail.

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