On 29 March, a Delhi court granted bail to three men arrested by the police when they opposed their efforts to clear out the Shaheen Bagh protest site earlier in the week, keeping in mind the coronavirus crisis and the risk of infection in jails.
While most of the conditions of the order were standard form, including sureties and a bond for Rs 25,000, one of the conditions in the order stands out:
That the men could not even post any opinion relating to the CAA, NPR or NRC on social media or on messenger services like WhatsApp.
Shan Mohammed, Syed Masood Ahmad and Syed Taseer Ahmed had asked the court for bail on the basis that they had no criminal antecedents and that if they were kept in jail, they were likely to be infected with the novel coronavirus.
Judge Jitendra Pratap Singh at the Saket Court Complex agreed to grant them bail on these grounds – noting also that the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court had both passed orders for decongestion of jails in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
However, he also felt there was a need to address the State’s concerns that if the three released on bail, they could mobilise a crowd again at Shaheen Bagh, which would be a threat to public order as well as efforts to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
As a result, he included, as a condition for Mohammad's bail, that only would they not be allowed to go to Shaheen Bagh to attend any protest (or any other gathering of 5 or more people), but they would also not post anything on social media, or on instant messengers (ie WhatsApp, Telegram, etc) about the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Population Register or National Register of Citizens. They are also forbidden from speaking to the media.
The bail order also includes conditions relating to the novel coronavirus crisis, with the three men having to agree to comply with State and Centre directions which are meant to deal with restricting the spread of COVID-19.
A bail condition of not attending any protests and of not speaking to the media had been imposed on Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad after he had been arrested for his participation in anti-CAA protests, but this was modified by the same court after Azad argued it was a violation of his fundamental right to free speech.
The present order goes even further than that original order, as a result of which it could be challenged using the example of Azad's conditions being modified.
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