New Delhi: A minor boy returned home Friday night after spending four months in a jail in Azamgarh after he was arrested for taking part in anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests.
The 16-year-old, out on bail, was among 19 people who were arrested on 5 February for raising “anti-national slogans” at Jauhar Ali park in Azamgarh’s Bilariyaganj.
The boy was charged with IPC section 124-A (sedition), 147 (rioting), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups), 307 (attempt to murder), among others.
“It’s been extremely difficult for us, knowing that our younger brother is in jail all these months. Our mother, especially, went through a horrible time,” the minor’s elder brother told ThePrint.
The 18 others who were arrested included Tahir Madni, the general secretary of Rashtriya Ulema Council. Madni was ordered to be released on 15 May.
The Allahabad High Court, while ordering the minor’s bail on 2 June, said he has been languishing in jail for four months despite having a case identical to Madni.
“The case of the applicant stands on identical footing, hence the applicant is also entitled for bail on the ground of parity. The applicant is languishing in jail since 05.2.2020,” the court order said.
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Lawyers ThePrint spoke to said the arrest of a minor was an “aberration”. They added that keeping him in jail for four months wasn’t “normal” and that he should have been, instead, placed in a juvenile cell.
‘He had nothing to do with protest’
At the time of the minor’s arrest, the police had claimed that they didn’t know if he was a minor or not. However, the boy’s brother disputed this.
“We kept telling the police officers that he is just 16, but they didn’t listen. We showed them the family register as well, but nothing moved them,” he said.
Manoj Kumar Singh, the SHO of Bilariyaganj police station, said the police wasn’t aware at the time of the arrest that he is a minor.
“We didn’t know he was a minor. Moreover, there is no such rule that prohibits us from arresting minors. If we see a minor committing a crime, they will be arrested,” Singh told ThePrint.
The family had claimed the minor was on his way to the dhaba he worked at, when commotion broke out near the protest site and he was arrested. “He didn’t have anything to do with the protest, he is only a kid,” the brother said.
The 19 people who were arrested were denied bail in March by the district and sessions court citing “the seriousness of the crime”. Following this, the lawyer representing them moved the Allahabad High Court.
“It took so long because the lockdown further slowed down the process. As of now, six of the 19 arrested have been given bail by the high court, including (the minor),” advocate Talha Rashadi told ThePrint.
Over 1,100 people from various Uttar Pradesh districts were arrested in December, following the violence that occurred in the aftermath of the anti-CAA protests. More arrests were made in January and February after the protests continued.
Last week, a 22-year-old Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) student was arrested in connection with the violence. Farhan Zuberi, the AMU student, has been charged with sedition and attempt to murder in connection with the violence that broke out in the university on 15 December.
As many as 19 deaths were reported in Uttar Pradesh, with the police accused of being involved in many of these killings.
What lawyers have to say
Lawyers argued that while it is true in principle that a minor can be arrested, it is still an “aberration”.
“In such cases, even if a minor is apprehended by the police, they are only detained, and are eventually let off after some questioning,” said Anas Tanwir Siddiqui, Supreme Court advocate and founder of Indian Civil Liberties Union.
“So the fact that he was kept in jail for four months isn’t normal by any standard,” he added.
In the case of a detention, the individual isn’t formally charged with a crime but only kept in police custody for questioning. After the police questioning, the detained individual is released. But, an individual arrested by the police means he/she has been charged with a crime.
Advocate Rashadi alleged that the minor was kept in the Azamgarh district jail for nearly two months before being shifted to the juvenile cell. “Ideally, he should have been kept in the juvenile cell from Day 1. But he was shifted there once the lockdown began in the last week of March,” Rashadi said.
SHO Singh said he was initially sent to the jail. “We didn’t know he was a juvenile, so initially he was sent to the regular jail. Later he was shifted to a juvenile cell,” Singh said.
Shwetank Sailakwal, Supreme Court advocate said a minor should be immediately sent to a juvenile cell. “According to the procedures laid down, anyone under 18 should be sent immediately to the juvenile cell, they cannot be kept with adults under trial,” he told ThePrint.
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