On Tuesday, a Delhi Court acquitted 36 foreigners, who were charge-sheeted for attending Tablighi Jamaat congregation in the national capital by allegedly being negligent and disobeying the government guidelines, issued in wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the country.
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Arun Kumar Garg acquitted the foreigners from 14 countries of all charges including ranging from the disobedience of COVID-19 norms to indulging in missionary activities and violating visa conditions.
The court stated that there is not even an iota of evidence to prove that the prohibitory orders issued by the ACP, Lajpat Nagar, were published perusing which the people residing at the Markaz could have known about the restrictions on gatherings.
Further, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Arun Garg said that the station house officer (SHO) of Nizamuddin police station was aware of the actual number of persons gathered at the Markaz since the beginning, yet failed to take any timely measures to ensure the dispersal of the gathering despite being aware of the government guidelines.
“Else, if he was not so aware of the actual or even approximate numbers staying inside Markaz till the last day of evacuation exercise, he in all probability is deposing falsely about his daily visits to Markaz and briefing of the people stranded therein with government guidelines.
“In any case, his testimony has failed to pass the test of creditworthiness and hence identification by him of the accused persons in the court is not sufficient to discharge the onus of prosecution to prove the presence of the accused at Markaz during the relevant period,” the court stated in its order.
Tablighi Jamaat event
A Tablighi Jamaat religious congregation took place in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque in early March 2020. It became the coronavirus super-spreader event with more than 4,000 confirmed cases and around 27 deaths linked to the event were reported across the country. As per reports, over 9,000 missionaries may have attended the congregation, with the majority being from various states of India, while 960 attendees from 40 foreign countries, despite orders barring the gathering of over 200 people in one place.
In April, the Health Ministry stated that as many as 30% of all COVID-19 cases in India at the time were linked to travelers from the congregation.
Subsequently, on 24th August, the court framed charges against the 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, Section 3 (disobeying regulation) of Epidemic Act, 1897 and section 51 (obstruction) Disaster Management Act, 2005.
However, later few of them were discharged of the offenses 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, while stating there was “prima facie no evidence” against them. On the other hand, around 960 foreign nationals have been blacklisted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for flouting visa norms.
In August, the Bombay High Court also had quashed three FIRs against 35 petitioners – 29 of them foreign nationals – who attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation and traveled from there to different parts of India. The court had said in its judgment that the foreigners had been made “scapegoats” and that the action against them was an “indirect warning to Indian Muslims” after the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.