Rights activist seeks change of bench in comedian Munawar Faruqi case after M.P. High Court judge’s remarks

Published : January 26, 2021 18:17 IST

Munawar Faruqi. Photo: His Twitter account

Transparency and rights activist Saket Gokhale has filed a ‘letter petition’ with the Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court in the “public interest”, asking for a change of bench in the case involving the judicial detention of comedian Munawar Faruqi since January 2.

The remark of Justice Rohit Arya of the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s Indore Bench, that people like Faruqi “must not be spared”, during a hearing on January 25, drew widespread criticism on social media. He had even observed: “But why you take undue advantage of other’s religious sentiments and emotions. What is wrong with your mindset? How can you do this for the purpose of your business?”

The letter petition stated that the police found nothing malicious or incriminating in the videos they examined. The Indore Police had further “failed to produce the case diary in court and submitted that they had no documentary evidence,” the petition said.

Gokhale argued that Justice Arya’s comments “carry a presumption of guilt on part of the accused” at a time when the accused’s bail application’s merits are being decided, and pre-trial. He further wrote that the bench gave no reason why it was “disinclined to entertain” the comedian’s bail plea. “Justice Rohit Arya has not given an impression of fairness or impartiality on part of the Bench, the petition said.

The letter petition concluded by requesting the Chief Justice to intervene and assign the matter to a different bench in the interest of “justice and fairness”. Responding to an email from Frontline, Gokhale said the personal liberty of Faruqi was paramount given the lack of prima facie evidence, as submitted by the Indore Police.

“Bail not jail should be the norm when the accused isn’t a flight risk or likely to tamper with evidence or intimidating witnesses. That people are claiming offensive jokes were cracked online 18 months ago has zero nexus with the case against Munawar,” Gokhale said.

Comedian Munawar Faruqi was arrested with five others on January 2 on the charge of making “indecent remarks” against Hindu deities and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in the course of an event at a café in Indore. This was based on a complaint of a person who had come to attend the show. After the District and Sessions Court rejected their bail applications on January 5, the High Court bench, too, kept extending their judicial custody. Justice Arya has reserved his order on the merits of the bail plea.