A magistrate’s court last week rejected the discharge applications of 20 foreign nationals, members of the Tablighi Jamaat while observing that there was no legal evidence against them that they spread COVID- 19, they will continue to face charges for staying in a mosque during the lockdown in March.
The foreign nationals – 10 each from Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan – were booked by the D N Nagar police the same month.
“Admittedly, there is no legal evidence against the present accused for spreading the virus. In such panic circumstances, what the entire nation followed was also expected from accused persons which are missing from their part. The accused persons were found together in a mosque though it was ordered to be closed,” the judge said.
Lawyer Amin Solkar, representing the 20 foreigners, said that they were not assembling in the mosque but were residing thereafter the lockdown was imposed in March, stopping them from returning to their countries.
Referring to an order of the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court in a similar case of foreign nationals staying in mosques in Ahmednagar, Solkar said the court had observed that arrangements for food and stay were made in many religious places, including gurdwaras after the lockdown was imposed.
Solkar submitted that the 20 foreign nationals, who had come to Mumbai in February, had restricted themselves to the mosques, where outsiders were not allowed and hence, it cannot be treated as a public place – an observation made by the HC while quashing similar charges against foreign nationals residing in Ahmednagar.
Solkar submitted to the court that the police chargesheet against the 20 people did not have any evidence to show that they had attended the congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi, where many foreigners had assembled as part of the Tablighi Jamaat in March. Many of the attendees later tested positive for Covid-19.
He added that they had also not violated visa guidelines and there were no witnesses to state that they broke the rules of the lockdown.
The magistrate, however, said that there were “some noticeable differences” in the cases before the HC and the current case and hence, they “are not factually and squarely applicable to this case to some extent”.
The individuals were arrested on charges of violating lockdown and visa norms as well as for spreading Covid-19. The police had, last month, dropped two charges of attempt to murder and culpable homicide against the 20 foreign nationals.
This comes after the Bombay High Court quashed FIRs filed against a total of 29 foreign nationals while stating that the Tablighi Jamaat members were made “scapegoats” and criticised the “big media propaganda” against them after noting that they were “virtually persecuted” with a campaign that they were responsible for spreading COVID-19 in India. In June, the Madras HC had quashed FIRs against Tablighi Jamaat foreigners after observing that they had “suffered enough” and urged the centre to consider their request to return to their native places.