The denial of bail to comedian Munawar Faruqui on the grounds that it may cause ‘law and order’ problems calls into serious question the role of the police and judiciary in pandering to the Hindu vigilante groups targeting journalists and comedians, accused People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), a rights organisation based in Delhi.
PUDR has condemned the targeted harassment of Faruqui and others arrestees and called for their immediate release on bail as is their right.
Faruqui, performing artist Nalin Yadav and three others were arrested on the complaint of a Hindu fringe group Hind Rakshak Sangathan (HRS) leader and son of a BJP MLA that “indecent” remarks were made against Hindu deities and Home Minister Amit Shah during a show held in Indore in Madhya Pradesh. However, police later admitted that Faruqui had not made any statements. His arrest, police say, was based on “oral evidence” given by the local Hindutva leader who claimed to have “overheard” Faruqui rehearsing jokes that he was “going to” say in his act.
The comedian has been a target of Hindutva groups since last year when one of his shows got viral for its sharp comments.
Faruqui had also been roughed up by the members of the fringe group Hind Rakshak Sangathan, who forcefully took him to the Tukoganj police station along with the organisers of the event.
Two bail pleas by Faruqui and another have been rejected and the Madhya Pradesh High Court has reserved its judgement on the third bail application on 25 January, 2021 indicating already that “such people should not be spared”.
“This case is symbolic of the flagrant disregard for fundamental freedoms and the failure of judiciary in upholding these freedoms, thereby encouraging the majoritarian state’s vicious attempts to target views contrary to its agenda of Hindu Nationalism,” reads the statement by PUDR.
The rights organisation claimed that arresting a comedian for speech meant to entertain is an attack on the fundamental right to speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution of India.
The statement further reads: “the allegations which have been charged against Faruqui are punishable with upto three years. In such cases, arbitrary arrest and denial of bail constitutes overreach by both the police and the judiciary. The recent Supreme Court judgement granting interim bail to journalist Mr. Arnab Goswami in a suicide abetment case also reiterated the ‘bail not jail’ principle that is to be followed in all but the most heinous of offences.”
“In the wake of his arrest by the MP police, FIRs have been activated in UP and Bombay that are based on his past videos, making possible his continued targeting even as the MP case has no teeth. PUDR has in the past pointed to the systematic criminalisation of Muslims by the misuse of criminal prosecution and the Faruqui case is one more example of the same,” PUDR accused.
The rights group urged the judiciary to quash all charges against Faruqui and others and reiterate the fundamental protections for speech and expression that is guaranteed to all citizens.