While Haider and Zargar’s colleagues on the Jamia Coordination Committee claim they have also received notices to appear before the Delhi Police Special Cell for questioning, a group of more than 20 scholars and activists have issued a statement, calling their arrests “arbitrary” at a time when the country and the world is battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
Teachers’ associations of Jamia Millia Islamia and the Jawaharlal Nehru University, along with other organisations, have also demanded Haider and Zargar’s release.
Clashes had broken out between groups opposing and supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act in the last week of February, which eventually escalated into full-blown riots across North-East Delhi. At least 53 people lost their lives, and hundreds suffered injuries.
Who are the arrested students?
On 2 April, Haider, a 35-year-old PhD student at Jamia and president of the youth wing of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Delhi, was called in for questioning by the Delhi Police Special Cell, for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to incite communal riots. He was subsequently arrested the same day.
After remaining in police custody for over 10 days, Haider was sent to judicial custody for 14 days, starting Wednesday.
“Initially, the FIR only mentioned protest speeches and other bailable offences. But later, they also included very serious charges in connection to the Delhi riots. This has made his release impossible,” Akram Kham, Haider’s lawyer, told ThePrint.
Another student, Safoora Zargar, was arrested last Saturday for allegedly leading the anti-CAA protest at Jaffrabad metro station in February. Zargar was sent to police custody on 13 April.
Both Haider and Zargar are members of the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC), a group of current and former students of the university.
RJD national spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha, a Delhi University professor, has taken to social media in support of Haider. “(Haider) had been called for ‘talks’, (and) was supposed to be sent back home. Then an order comes from ‘the top’ and Meeran Haider, who was helping people during the coronavirus pandemic, is placed under arrest,” he posted on Twitter.
बात बिलकुल साफ़ है. #DelhiPoliceSpecialCell ने 2घंटे #JamiaInvestigation के लिए ‘बातचीत’ के लिए बुलाया,घर वापस भेजने की बात थी. फिर ‘ऊपर’ से कोई आदेश आया और #coronavirusindia में लोगो की मदद कर रहे मीरान हैदर की गिरफ्तारी हो जाती है.#ReleaseMeeranHaider
— Manoj K Jha (@manojkjhadu) April 2, 2020
The Special Cell of the Delhi Police has said the investigation is still ongoing. ThePrint attempted to contact Special Cell DCP Pramod Kushwaha as well as Joint CP Neeraj Thakur, but neither was available to comment. This report will be updated when they respond.
Other JCC members claim they’ve got notices
Meanwhile, more JCC members claim they have been issued notices to appear in front of the Special Cell for questioning.
“They have sent a notice to at least four or five more of us,” said a JCC member, who did not wish to be named.
“It’s scary because they call just for questioning and then arrest the person — like they did in the case of Meeran and Safoora,” the member said.
Activists Khalid Saifi and Ishrat Jahan have been under arrest since February in connection with the Delhi riots. The two were arrested from the Khureji anti-CAA protest site, and have since remained in judicial custody.
Statements opposing the arrests
The scholars and activists’ statement against the Delhi Police action has been signed by the likes of Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, activists Umar Khalid, Anjali Bhardwaj, Kavita Krishnan and Medha Patkar, besides lawyer Teesta Setalvad, among others.
The activists have written that the Delhi Police is “weaving fictitious narratives” about the Delhi violence, and “is abusing the Covid-19 lockdown to silence and arrest those who oppose government policies, hoping that this abuse of state power will go unreported”.
The statement added that the students and activists being arrested in connection with the riots were at the forefront of the anti-CAA protests that swept the national capital in December-January.
Meanwhile, teachers’ associations of Jamia and JNU, along with at least 30 other organisations, have released a joint statement demanding the release of Haider and Zargar.
“What is particularly worrying in this entire context is that Shrimati Safoora Zargar is pregnant and in this condition she requires proper care and medical supervision. This kind of action during the lockdown due to the coronavirus is a violation of their constitutional rights,” their statement read.
ThePrint could not independently verify the claim that Zargar is pregnant, since her family has refused to speak to the media.