Court releases them after securing an undertaking to attend all hearings

“We don’t want bail. Send us to jail,” said convener Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) associates in court on Tuesday in a rioting case filed against them by the Delhi Police. On August 26 last, during a rally to protest against political corruption in the coal block allocation scam, they had violated prohibitory orders forbidding unlawful assembly under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in Central Delhi.

Seeking to make a political statement against the government for imposition of prohibitory orders, Mr. Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan, Manish Sisodhia, Kumar Vishwas and other AAP workers admitted that they violated Section 144 but rejected the rioting charges, while refusing to furnish bail bonds, and instead implored the magisterial court to send them to jail.

After proceedings which saw much drama, the court, which had made it clear that the accused persons would not be arrested, released them after they furnished an undertaking to appear in court on all dates of hearing.

Appearing for 26 accused persons, Mr. Prashant Bhushan said: “Section 144 of the Cr.PC cannot be used to stifle protests against the Government. The latest judgment was in Baba Ramdev’s [June 4, 2011, midnight crackdown] case when the Supreme Court frowned upon this. Section 144 Cr.PC is a provision to be used in emergency situations when there is reasonable apprehension of breach of peace. We have always protested peacefully. On August 26, police responded to our peaceful protests outside 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course Road by using water cannon, teargas and lathis.”

Then Mr. Kejriwal interjected: “Yes, we breached Section 144 Cr.PC because we regarded its imposition as illegal.”

Mr. Bhushan continued: “Now Delhi Police have filed a false charge sheet. This has become the easiest way to harass and stifle activists and political opponents. The protest was against a huge scam. There were several TV cameras including the police cameras. The cameras will say clearly whether we have indulged in any violence. The court should ask the police why they have not submitted videographic evidence with the charge sheet.”

While the prosecution did not press for arrest of the accused persons, the public prosecutor argued that the court must insist on the accused persons in the three rioting cases furnishing bail bonds. With the accused persons pleading that they be arrested and refusing to move bail applications or furnish bail bonds, Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja took recourse to a 1978 judgment by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer in which the Supreme Court had suggested that monetary bail was not a necessary element of the justice system and not the only deterrent against an accused fleeing from justice.

Mr. Thareja, who ruled out arresting the accused persons, then asked them to give the undertaking to face trial and be present on all dates of hearing.

The arguments will begin from February 23. The Delhi Police had filed their charge sheet on October 16 last and, on January 4, Mr. Thareja had taken cognisance of various charges including rioting, rioting while armed with deadly weapon, obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions, assaulting or obstructing public servant when suppressing riot, and being present in unlawful assembly.

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