Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam was arrested Tuesday from his native village in Bihar’s Jehanabad by a joint team of Delhi and Bihar police. The arrest was made three days after a case of sedition was registered against him in Delhi for his allegedly “inflammatory and instigating” speech.
He had reportedly delivered this speech outside the Jamia Millia Islamia during an anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protest on December 13, 2019, 42 days before the FIR was filed.
After arresting Imam, the Delhi Police, in a press conference held in the national capital, said they will also probe his role in the three cases registered at Jamia Nagar and New Friends Colony (NFC) police stations in connection with the violence and vandalism at Jamia university and NFC on December 13 and 15. Interrogating Imam, whose research topic at the JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies is ‘Riot’, will throw fresh light on his activities, the police said.
During preliminary interrogation, Imam, who has a degree in five-year integrated course from IIT-Bombay, said the viral video was not of any public or political programme. “It was a speech to a select audience of 30-35 persons in a room. However, it went viral and later many people started calling me for public speeches, though I never considered myself a good speaker,” a policeman quoted him as saying.
Imam told the police that he was not aware his speech would create such “hue and cry”. “I will keep myself away from the media and strive not to be provocative,” he told the police.
After Imam’s arrest, a tweet from his Twitter handle was posted at 4.26pm. “I have surrendered to the Delhi Police on 28 1 2020 at 3pm. I am ready and willing to operate (read cooperate) with the investigation. I have full faith in due process of law. My safety and security are now in the hand of Delhi Police. Let peace prevail (sic),” the tweet read.
Responding to the tweet, DCPsaid, “We arrested him from outside his home. It’s not that he was in any court or police station where he came to surrender.”
Apart from Delhi, cases were also registered against Imam in Bihar, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur after two separate videos, in which he is seen making the alleged “inflammatory and instigating” speech—surfaced on the social media. Imam went into hiding as soon as the cases were registered and a search was launched by police teams from all the six states.
The Delhi Police crime branch, which booked Imam under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between religious groups) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code, dispatched three teams on Saturday to carry out raids in Patna and Mumbai. “Two more teams were conducting raids at Imam’s possible hideouts in Delhi,” said deputy commissioner of police (crime branch) Rajesh Deo.
The DCP said their team reached Patna on January 26 as Imam was last seen participating in a protest rally in Phulwari Sharif (in Patna) on January 25. It was also learnt that Imam originally belonged to Malik Tola village at Kako in Jehanabad, which is around 50km from Patna.
“Our team got in touch with Patna and Jehanabad police and conducted joint raids. On Monday (January 27), Imam’s brother Muzammil was questioned about the former’s whereabouts. Muzammil gave us some vital clues and Imam was arrested from outside his family home around 2pm,” the DCP said, adding that Iman’s transit remand was sought from court and that he was being brought to Delhi.
Meanwhile, a verbal dual had ensued between the Delhi and Jehanabad police officials over which team would get Imam’s custody first. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said the Bihar police would cooperate with the Delhi police. “If somebody does something wrong, action will be taken. Police and court will decide on the action,” Nitish told reporters.
“The Bihar police offered active support to the Delhi police personnel in arresting Imam,” ADG (headquarters) Jitendra Kumar said.
Following Imam’s arrest, the Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association expressed its concern. “.. while there may be considerable scope for disagreement with the remarks allegedly made by the student, it has been persuasively argued by legal experts that these remarks do not warrant a charge of sedition and there are other reasons behind the sedition law being invoked,” read a part of the statement issued by the association.
The association also said that more than three weeks have passed since teachers and students were attacked by a masked mob, but not a single arrest has been made so far.
A statement was also issued by JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh. “While there may be scope of difference always, what is to be noted is how the sedition law of the colonial era has been used time and again to target and witch-hunt political voices…main agenda is to delegitimise the democratic protests going on throughout the country led by women and youth against …CAA-NPR-NRC…The urgency shown by Delhi Police on this matter and being totally absent during the 5th January shows clearly on whose line the police are working,” the statement read.