Umar Khalid turned 36 on Friday, August 11, in jail. He is a PhD student and outspoken critic of the current political dispensation. Khalid has been incarcerated for nearly 3 years now, without a trial, far less a conviction.
Aakar Patel, the former CEO of Amnesty India wrote a letter to Umar Khalid recently, which was published by the National Herald. It is reproduced below:
It is with admiration that one sees you, and the dignity with which you have conducted yourself in this period, and before it. Your persecution is an emblem of what is being called New India (not much of it is new, of course, other than the nakedness of what is being done and who it is being done to).
Emblematic in the sense that many feel strongly about you and think you personify, as few others do, what is happening around us. Calls for your release result in a large number of insulting, abusive and often fallacious comments. This is true. However, there are always an equal and perhaps even a larger number of people who offer solidarity and understanding. This is anecdotal but has happened often enough and consistently enough for it to be considered data of some sort. While none of us can fully comprehend your position, one hopes that you can derive some warmth from this. There are many who were and remain with you.
Along with your family, we have followed your case and its hearings and felt strong emotion for what has happened and how (LiveLaw and Bar & Bench ran detailed commentary). The quality of your defence team has been exceptional and Pais was magnificent. Perhaps this might also be something to take sustenance from.
History tells us that movements and ideologies that are intense and fierce begin to come apart as their waves keep pounding the same space. Tides turn, as they say. It appears, and one is confident one is not being overly delusional in thinking this, that this is happening now. I have more than hope for how the next 10 months will unfold for all of us, but particularly for political prisoners.
My best wishes and my love, Aakar
Former JNU student Umar Khalid was arrested in a UAPA case related to the alleged conspiracy behind the riots in New Delhi in February 2020. In May 2022, he contended before the Delhi High Court that the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act were against an “unjust law” and they were in no way an act against the Sovereign.
Khalid’s counsel said several of the acts alleged or incidents cited against him by the police did not even qualify as ‘terror’ and the protestors were not perpetuating violence as contemplated under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
Challenging the trial court’s order dismissing his bail plea, Khalid’s counsel contended that the special judge had said these were acts threatening the unity and integrity of India. He added that the protests were against an unjust law by persons who want to be part of the country and it is in no way an act against the Sovereign.
It is not perpetrating violence which Section 15 (terrorist act) of the UAPA contemplates, the counsel said.
“Who are we pointing this at? These are the people who said CAA is discriminatory and they want to be part of India,” he said, adding that the protestors were opposing the alleged discriminatory criteria of granting or denying citizenship to a certain class of persons.
While referring to a previous judgement, the lawyer said a terrorist act does not merely arise by causing disturbance of law and order.
During the hearing, Justice Mridul said as per precedents, terrorism is an act done with a view to disturb the even tempo of the society, create a sense of fear in the mind of a section of society, and was there any sense of fear instilled in anybody after the riots?
To this, Khalid’s counsel replied in affirmative and said the community most affected by the riots had that feeling of fear.
He added that the alleged fear was not so grave and “we should not fall in the trap of interpreting everything as terror”.
Besides Khalid, activist Khalid Saifi, JNU students Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, Jamia Coordination Committee members Safoora Zargar, former AAP councillor Tahir Hussain and several others have also been booked under the stringent law in the case.