Delhi HC restrains police from issuing press notes naming Devangana Kalita till commencement of trial

Delhi High Court has restrained Delhi Police from giving any further media statements about allegations against Pinjra Tod activist Devangana Kalita till the framing of charges against her and commencement of trial on Monday.

“Cases of riots are undoubtedly sensitive,” Court said.

Kalita is accused in four FIRs in connection with northeast Delhi violence.

Devangana Kalita, JNU research scholar and one of the founding members of the Pinjra Tod was arrested in the case in May by the Crime Branch of the Delhi police and booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code including rioting, unlawful assembly and attempt to murder and also been booked by Delhi Police Special Cell under the stringent anti-terror law UAPA – in a separate case related to the northeast Delhi violence, for allegedly being part of a “premeditated conspiracy” in the violence.

The High Court was hearing a petition filed by Kalita seeking to stop all leaks of allegations against her to the media claiming that the Delhi Police leaked information to the media in a bid to try and establish her guilt before the trial even begins.

In her plea, she said that the leaks to the media can cause severe undesirable effects during the pendency of the case. She has sought to restrain and prevent the Delhi Police from further selective leaking information related to the case against her. She said that the Delhi Police has, through a media note and selective leaks, on contents of charge-sheets had caused immense damage to the reputation and fundamental right to a fair trial and a presumption of innocence.

While, the Delhi Police opposed the plea, the Delhi High Court had earlier extended its interim order restraining Delhi Police from issuing any statements or circulating information regarding allegations and evidence collected against Kalita to any person including the media or social media.

International human rights watchdogs including Amnesty International and civil society groups, teachers associations, student organizations, and filmmakers across India had issued different statements calling for the release of Devangana Kalita and anti-CAA activists who were ‘targetted by Hindu nationalist government for protesting anti-Muslim laws’ and ‘arrested under false accusations by Delhi Police.’

Police accused the anti-CAA activists of being key “conspirators” in the Delhi pogrom that erupted in 2020 February. The pogrom is widely acknowledged to have been sparked by incendiary comments made by Kapil Mishra, a BJP leader, about Muslims peacefully protesting against ‘anti-Muslim and unconstitutional’ citizenship law. Video evidence and witness accounts pointed to police allowing Hindu mobs to roam the streets freely to target the Muslim community.