What’s The Offence?: Delhi High Court To Cops On Sheltering Tablighi Jamaat Members

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The Delhi High Court today questioned the city police what offence was committed by some Indian nationals when they housed foreigners, who attended the Tablighi Jamaat event last year amid the COVID-19 lockdown. It said the government had not imposed a ban on people from staying at any particular place.

Justice Mukta Gupta, who was hearing a batch of petitions to cancel first information reports, or FIRs, against the hosts, said the Jamaat attendees sought refuge before the pandemic lockdown was imposed and there were no allegations of them violating the orders restricting movement.

“Suddenly, when lockdown is imposed, where does one go after that? What is the offence committed? Is there any bar on Madhya Pradesh residents to stay in Delhi in any mosque, temple or gurdwara? They can stay wherever they want. Was there a notice that everybody will throw out whosoever was staying (with them)?” Justice Gupta said.

“I have brought out the point…you will tell me where is the violation when there is no question of changing places at that time? I can understand they went out, that they violated the (lockdown) notification. When lockdown was imposed, there was no bar on anyone residing,” the court said and gave time to Delhi Police to file their response to the petitions.

The police’s lawyer sought time to file a status report, and said that at the relevant time, there was a bar on any type of religious events.

The petitioners’ lawyer said that since the Jamaat attendees began staying on the premises in question before the lockdown was imposed and none tested positive for Covid, no case was made out against her clients.

While some of the petitions for cancelling the FIRs are by individuals who had provided shelter to the foreigners and could not travel due to the subsequent lockdown, others are by people like managing committee members or caretakers of mosques who have been accused of providing housing facilities to the foreign nationals at mosques under the jurisdiction of Chandni Mahal police station.

In their petitions, filed through lawyers Ashima Mandla and Mandakini Singh, Feroz and Rizwan, who had each given shelter to four women Tablighi attendees, have said they had nowhere to go during the lockdown.

Feroz, Rizwan and other petitioners have said there was no documentation on record in either the FIR or chargesheet to indicate they had been infected by Covid and so they could not have been accused of spreading the disease under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.

Earlier, the court had told Delhi Police to file a status report indicating the role of each accused and as well as the duration of their stay and whether the housing facility was given after or before lockdown orders were issued.

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