New Delhi: Over 44 months have passed since Saima Khan’s father, businessman Mohammad Saleem Khan, was jailed in the February 2020 Delhi riots conspiracy case.

Saleem, 50, is among 20 people, including students and activists, accused of conspiring to plan and execute communal riots that swept northeast Delhi between 23 February and 25 February 2020, resulting in 53 deaths—two-thirds of them Muslim—and over 700 injuries.

The Delhi police charged the 20 in a common first information report (FIR number 59) under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA), a “draconian” anti-terror law infamous for its widespread misuse against government critics and journalists, as Article 14 has reported (herehere and here).

Nine of those accused, 8 men and 1 woman—Saleem, Sharjeel Imam, Abdul Khali Saifi, Gulfisha Fatima, Meeran Haider, Salim Malik, Shifa Ur Rehman, Shadab Ahmed, and Athar Khan—remain in jail after being denied bail by lower courts, their petitions challenging the denial of bail also pending for 11 to 19 months in the Delhi high court.

Although a special bench consisting of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar listed the nine bail petitions for hearing between 34 and 60 times since April 2022 and even concluded hearings and reserved judgements in six between January and March 2023—petitions of Saifi, Fatima, Haider, Malik, Rehman, and Saleem—it failed to deliver a final judgement.

The nine cases came to a standstill when, on 5 July 2023, the Supreme Court collegium recommended Justice Mridul’s transfer to the Manipur high court as its chief justice—which the central government cleared three months later on 16 October—and a little more than a month later, Justice Bhatnagar’s transfer to the Rajasthan high court.

A new bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Shalinder Kaur will now hear the nine cases afresh, further prolonging incarceration. On 1 November 2023, Justices Kait and Kaur fixed dates for rehearings in January and February 2024—with only Saleem’s case listed for 21 December 2023.

The trial has not yet begun. Lawyers and family members of the accused criticised the delays in deciding bail pleas.

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