A Delhi court on Monday framed charges against 36 foreigners from 14 countries for attending Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi by allegedly being negligent and disobeying the government guidelines issued in wake of COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
The court, however, said there was no iota of evidence to suggest that the present accused had in any manner professed or propagated the principles and doctrines of the Tablighi Jamaat or had indulged in tablighi work as alleged and discharged eight foreigners of all charges.
While framing charges to start trial against 36 foreigners, the court said the statements of the witnesses, especially the health officials prima facie, showed that there was no social distancing being followed.
"It has been further been mentioned in the chargesheet that around 1,300 devotees from various states and foreign countries were found residing at the Markaz premises without maintaining any social distancing or using facial mask, hand sanitizers etc, even though there was invocation of order under Section 144 (power to issue order in urgent cases of nuisance of apprehended danger) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc) in that area whereby, a curfew had been imposed and of the nationwide lockdown commencing from March 25," the court said in its order.
It, however, said prima facie no act can be imputed on them to show that they had malignantly done anything which was likely to spread the coronavirus disease and discharged them for the offences of malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life and disobedience to quarantine rule.
The court said that documents placed before it merely signified their presence at the Nizamuddin Markaz.
"The statements of the witnesses relied upon by the prosecution are
either on the basis of the alleged disclosures purportedly made by the accused during investigation or are general conjunctures not specifically providing as to the tabligh work done by accused. In the present case, beyond the above discussed bald statements there is no other credible material brought forth on record to prima facie suggest the profession and propagation of Tablighi work by the accused. Merely attending or participating in Tablighi Jamaat Markaz is not restricted as per the Visa Manual, 2019."
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Gurmohina Kaur framed charges against 36 foreigners under sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 3 (disobeying regulation) of Epidemic Act, 1897.
The charges were also framed under section 51 (obstruction) Disaster Management Act, 2005.
However, they were discharged for the offences under section 14 (1) (b) (violation of visa norms) of Foreigners Act, sections 270 (Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 271 (Disobedience to quarantine rule) of IPC.
The punishment for the offences for which they have been charged ranges from six months to eight years of imprisonment.
The court discharged eight foreign nationals from six countries of all charges under which they were charge sheeted in the absence of any record or any credible material against them.
The foreigners were chargesheeted for attending Tablighi Jamaat congregation here allegedly in violation of visa norms, indulging in missionary activities illegally and violating government guidelines issued in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak.
"Perusal of documents and statements prima facie reflect that the accused and other persons including foreign nationals were negligent and did not take due care precautions by not following the directions and guidelines of the authorities, thereby leading to the spread of Coronavirus disease amongst themselves and others," the court said.
While discharging two foreigners from Indonesia, one from Kyrgyzstan, two from Thailand, one from Nigeria, one from Kazakhstan and one from Jordan, the court said perusal of the entire chargesheet and other documents placed on record showed that they were not present or participated at the Makaz during the period.
Special Public Prosecutor Atul Srivastava, appearing for the state, argued that the accused persons who were foreign nationals had arrived in India on the strength of tourist visa and were allegedly involved in Tablighi work which was not permitted under Visa rules unless they were granted special permission by the concerned authorities.
The public prosecutor further said that a large gathering was held without following social distancing and other guidelines, which was specifically directed by the Assistant Commissioner of Police Lajpat Nagar under Section 144 of CrPc.
Senior Counsel Rebecca John, appearing for the foreigners, argued the chargesheet was silent as to the role of any of the accused persons and also does not provide any specific act done by them to invoke provisions of any of the sections alleged against them.
Advocates Ashima Mandla, Mandakini Singh, also the accused said as per the visa guidelines available on the Ministry of Home Affairs website, the accused were not barred from visiting and attending any religious place including the Tablighi jamaat.
Advocates Megha Bahl, Fahim Khan and Ahmed Khan, said there was no evidence to show that any of the accused persons had preached or professed or was involved in any Tablighi work.
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