Safoora Zargar | PTI file photo
New Delhi: The families of those who have been slapped with charges under the stringent UAPA in connection with the February 2020 Delhi riots gathered at an iftar celebration here on Friday and shared how their lives changed after their loved ones were arrested.
The gathering was organised by the Students' Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) and saw the presence of Asif Iqbal Tanha and Safoora Zargar, who are currently out on bail in connection with the case.
Several activists were arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in connection with a case of a larger conspiracy in connection with the Delhi riots.
Communal clashes broke out in northeast Delhi on February 24, 2020 after violence between the supporters of the citizenship law and those opposed to it spiralled out of control, leaving at least 53 people dead and around 200 injured.
Speaking about the difficulties faced by his family members after his arrest, Tanha said, "My parents were in Jharkhand when I was arrested. When police informed my family about my arrest, my father got a heart attack. My sister's wedding got cancelled because of my arrest."
He said the cases should be fast-tracked. "Why is there such a delay despite having special courts to deal with our cases? The judiciary, the government and police must answer this," he added.
Tanha said it took more than 13 months for the judiciary to release him.
"...more than six months in the lower courts and over three months in the high court. Khalid Saifi's bail plea got rejected after more than six months. Why couldn't they do it earlier?" he asked.
Tanha pointed out that there are journalists, politicians and activists who have spoken up against the "bad policies of the government".
"They slapped UAPA against those who expressed their opinions and spoke their mind out against certain policies of the government. Laws are definitely being misused. There was the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) earlier and now, it is the UAPA," he said.
Referring to the judgment in his case, Tanha said the courts themselves mentioned that "protesting is not a crime or an act of terrorism".
Saima Khan, the daughter of Mohammad Saleem Khan, who was jailed in connection with the Delhi riots, recalled how their lives were impacted after her father's arrest.
"Life has been difficult after my father got arrested. To fight his case, we had to learn about several laws and rights that we were unaware of. We were also termed terrorists by some people, just because my father was charged under the UAPA," she said.
In 2021, Khan was named as an accused in three FIRs lodged by the Delhi Police in connection with the riots. In one of the cases, he has been charged under the UAPA and continues to be in jail, while he has secured bail in the two other cases.
"After Ishrat Jahan got bail, I was hopeful that my son will also be granted the same relief," said the mother of Khalid Saifi, another accused in the UAPA case.
The woman alleged mistreatment with her son in jail.
"Khalid's sugar level and blood pressure have increased. There is a hospital in the jail but medicines are not available," she said.
She further alleged that when Saifi asked for treatment, the jail officials neglected it.
"Khalid does not tell us about his problems thinking we will worry about him. He has kept Roza despite no basic facilities in jail. I asked him not to do so, but he refused. It pains us to see him in such a condition. We are tired of this situation. I wonder how many more Ramzans we will spend without him," she said.
Safoora Zargar, a Jamia Coordination Committee member, who was also arrested and charged under the UAPA in 2020, said, "I am proud of the way Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal have fought. There are situations when we feel hopeless. Even though I am out of jail, there are endless challenges."
Zargar was 23 weeks pregnant when she was released on bail in June 2020. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students Kalita and Narwal have also been booked under the UAPA in connection with the Delhi riots.
The families of others facing UAPA charges -- Tahir Hussain, Meeran Haider, Gulfishan Fatima, Ather Khan and Masood Khan -- were also present at the iftar event.