Allahabad HC Decision to Drop NSA Charges Against Dr Kafeel Khan, Free Him Hailed. A Victory for Free Speech

Social Commentary

Allahabad HC Decision to Drop NSA Charges Against Dr Kafeel Khan, Free Him Hailed. A Victory for Free Speech

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

The Allahabad High Court made a significant judgement today when it ruled that the Uttar Pradesh state government’s arrest and imprisonment of Dr Kafeel Khan under the stringent National Security Act (NSA) was illegal. The court directed the government to release Dr Khan, and barring a plea against the ruling by the state government in the Supreme Court, he will be a free man soon. His release comes after he spent over 200 days in Mathura Jail, after being arrested in January for a speech made in December last year.

Khan was charged under the NSA for his speech – which the government claimed posed a threat to law and order –  at the Aligarh Muslim Univeristy during the anti-CAA protests. Under the NSA, the government can detain the accused for up to 12 months without charging them in court under suspicion that they could upset national security or public order. However, the HC said, “A complete reading of the speech prima facie does not disclose any effort to promote hatred or violence. It also nowhere threatens peace and tranquility of the city of Aligarh… It appears that the District Magistrate had selective reading and selective mention for a few phrases from the speech ignoring its true intent,” while also calling Khan’s detention illegal, stating that the evidence against him was insufficient to prove the government’s accusations.

The release of Dr Khan has prompted a wave of appreciation for the Allahabad HC’s commitment to upholding civil liberties, which include the liberty to criticise the government. Journalist Rohini Singh said that it was a vindication for those who knew the case against Khan was a “fraud”.

Srivatsa YB, a leader of the Indian Youth Congress, quoted Martin Luther King’s statement “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” while calling the judgement a “slap on the face” of the UP government under Chief Minister Adityanath.

Jignesh Mevani, a Member of the Legislative Assembly from Gujarat, also praised the ruling, but also called for action to be taken against the officials responsible for Dr Khan’s illegal detention.

Yogendra Yadav hailed the HC decision and reiterated that Dr Khan’s speech did not promote hatred.

Journalist Maneesh Chhibber viewed the announcement as a sign that the nation’s High Courts were committed to upholding citizens’ Constitutional rights, rather than toeing the executive’s line.

The Allahabad HC’s ruling is an encouraging sign to those in the country who have criticisms for the government. As Dr Khan’s judgement was being read, the Delhi high court also granted bail to Pinjra Tod activist Devangana Kalita in the Delhi riots case after the police failed to provide evidence.

A great day for democracy.