Bombay High court on Friday subdued the FIR’s filed against the 29 foreign nationals who were booked under various provisions of IPC, Epidemic Diseases Act, Maharashtra Police Act, Disaster Management Act and Foreigner’s Act for violating their Tourist Visa conditions by attending the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizamuddin in Delhi. Not only the foreign nationals, police also booked six Indian nationals and trustees of the Masjids for giving shelter to the petitioners.
A division bench of Justice TV Nalawade and Justice MG Sewlikar of the Aurangabad bench heard the three separate petitions filed by the petitioners from the countries such as Ivory Coast, Ghana, Tanzania, Djibouti, Benin, and Indonesia. As per the petitioners, they came with a valid visa issued by the government of India. They also said that they have come to experience Indian culture, tradition, and Indian food. On the day of their arrival they got screened and tested for covid-19 and only they found negative they were allowed to leave the airport.
Police booked the petitioners after their claim that they are carrying some secret information about the petiotioners residing at the masjids in different areas and offering prayers in violation of lockdown orders.
Furthermore, they had informed District Superintendent of the police beforehand about their arrival in Ahmednagar district. According to their statement, due to the lockdown imposed on March 23, vehicular acitivities was stopped, hotels and lodges were closed and Masjids had given shelter to them. They were not involved in illegal activity including the breach of order of the District Collector, petitioners argued.
Besides, the District Superintendent of Police, Ahmednagar, filed a reply based on that the petitioners were found visiting places for preaching Islam religion and so, crimes are registered against them. He also contended that five foreign nationals from three different cases were found infected by the virus. It is contended that after the quarantine period was over all the petitioners were shown to be formally arrested.
Petitioners were booked for offences punishable under sections 188, 269, 270, 290 of Indian Penal Code, sections 37 (1) (3) r/w. 135 of Maharashtra Police Act, 1951 and section 11 of Maharashtra Covid-19 Measures and Rules, 2020, sections 2, 3 and 4 of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, section 14 (b) of Foreigners Act, 1946 and section 51(b) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Justice Nalawade, who authored the judgment, noted-“The aforesaid material produced on the record shows that even under recent updated Manual of Visa, there is no restriction on foreigners for visiting religious places and attending normal religious activities like attending religious discourses. Ordinarily, a tourist is not expected to follow the procedure laid down in para No. 19.8 if he does not want to preach the religious ideologies etc.”
APP MM Nerlikar contended that a writ petition is pending before the Supreme Court and in that matter relief is claimed by some similar foreigners to declare that blacklisting of 950 foreigners by the Central Government via decision dated April 2 as unconstitutional and void as due process of law was not followed before making such declaration by the Central Government. Thus, it is not desirable to decide the present proceeding as the Supreme Court is yet to decide the issue. However, the court refused to accept the said contention.
Justice Nalawade observed, “The material on the record shows that Tabligh Jamamat is not a separate sect of Muslim, but it is only movement for reformation of religion. Every religion has evolved over the years due to reformation as reformation is always necessary due to the changes in the society and the development achieved in the material world. In any case, even from the record, it cannot be inferred that the foreigners were spreading Islam religion by converting persons of other religion to Islam. The record shows that the foreigners were not talking Indian languages like Hindi or Urdu and they were talking languages like Arabian, French etc. In view of the aforesaid discussion, it can be said that the foreigners may have intention to know the ideas of Tabligh Jamamat about the reformation.
Criticizing the media’s cover of foreign nationals, who attended Tablighi Jamat, Justice Nalawade explained, “There was big propaganda in print media and electronic media against the foreigners who had come to Markaz Delhi and an attempt was made to create a picture that these foreigners were responsible for spreading COVID-19 virus in India. There was virtually persecution against these foreigners. A political government tries to find the scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there isprobability that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats. The aforesaid circumstances and the latest figures of infection in India show that such action against present petitioners should not have been taken. It is now high time for the concerned to repent about this action taken against the foreigners and to take some positive steps to repair the damage done by such action.”