'Shows government's desperation,' Pinjra Tod activists on delayed release
Activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Asif Iqbal Tanha were released from the Tihar jail in Delhi on Thursday shortly after a city court ordered their immediate release. The activists were booked under the UAPA anti-terror law in connection with the February 2020 Northeast Delhi riots case. On Friday, the Supreme Court will hear the plea of the Delhi Police challenging their bail.
According to a senior jail official, Pinjra Tod activists Kalita and Narwal walked out of jail around 7 pm, while Students Islamic Organisation of India activist Tanha was released around 7:30 pm. Kalita and Narwal were seen hugging each other and crying. They raised the slogans: "Saare Pinjron ko todenge. Itihas ki dhara modenge. (We will break all cages, rewrite history.)"
Speaking to reporters about the two-day delay in their release, Kalita said, "It shows the desperation of the government...We are women who are not scared of them." The activist told The Indian Express, "There was an anxious wait. We still feel someone will come and arrest us. I want to thank the Delhi High Court."
Narwal—who had gotten a three-week bail after her father's death in May—said, "There was this social trial against us. The allegations against us were shocking...wI miss my father, I wish he was here. We will continue to fight against wrong." "We were anxious, especially after the Delhi HC order and police delay," she said, "I thought we weren't going to get out."
Meanwhile, Tanha said, "People called me a terrorist, jihadi and other names but I didn't mind because I didn't do anything wrong. I will continue my fight against CAA and NRC. Our protests were peaceful." He added, "Though jail was tough, I knew we'll be out one day. I thank the Delhi High Court for its judgment. I believe in the Constitution."
The Delhi High Court had on Tuesday granted bail to the three accused, noting the distinction between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity. The court said that the line between protests and terrorism is "getting somewhat blurred." "If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy," the HC had said. However, the activists were not released immediately.
Reportedly, at 11 am on Thursday, Additional Sessions Judge Ravinder Bedi issued the release warrants. The judge noted that the Delhi Police's argument that more time was required to verify their addresses cannot be a plausible reason to keep them imprisoned. The court had deferred its order on Wednesday. The activists then moved the Delhi HC, which asked the trial court to expedite proceedings.
The three were arrested last May for their alleged role in the 2020 Delhi riots. Charges were invoked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for a large conspiracy in the violence. Parts of Northeast Delhi had witnessed deadly violence where at least 53 people were killed and 200 injured during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).