The Allahabad High Court on Friday ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to release Kafeel Khan, a doctor from Gorakhpur, who was booked under the National Security Act in February.
“The extension of the period of detention of detenue Dr Kafeel Khan is also declared illegal. A writ in the nature of habeas corpus is hereby issued to release Dr Kafeel Khan, the detenue from State custody forthwith,” the Allahabad High Court said in its order.
Nuzhat Perween, Khan’s mother, had filed a Habeas Corpus petition in the Supreme Court on 28 February. The Supreme Court referred the matter to the Allahabad High Court, where the matter lay unresolved for seven months amid the lockdowns and delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bharatiya Janata Party government in UP has accused Khan of making an inflammatory speech at Aligarh Muslim University on 12 December amid the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens in December.
Khan’s detention under the draconian NSA, which allows people to be detained for a year without being charged for a crime, was extended for a second time in August.
The District Magistrate of Aligarh booked him under the NSA three days after the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Aligarh granted him bail in the inflammatory speech case on 10 February and ordered his release from Mathura Jail.
“A complete reading of the speech prima facie does not disclose any effort to promote hatred or violence. It also no where threatens peace and tranquility of the city of Aligarh. The address gives a call for national integrity and unity among the citizens,” the Allahabad High Court said. “The speech also deprecates any kind of violence. It appears that the District Magistrate had selective reading and selective mention for few phrases from the speech ignoring its true intent.”
The Allahabad High Court also pointed out that while the address at AMU was given on 12th December, 2019, the District Administration, Aligarh did not find his speech cause for preventive detention, and only detained him under the NSA on 13 February after the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Aligarh, had granted him bail in the case.
The Allahabad High Court noted that the orders of extension were never served upon the detenue, and only radiograms were sent to him, not the actual orders through speed post.
“In light of the discussion above, we are having no hesitation in concluding that neither detention of Dr. Kafeel Khan under National Security Act, 1980 nor extension of the detention are sustainable in the eye of law,” the High Court said.
The address gives a call for national integrity and unity among the citizens.
Khan shot into the limelight in August 2017 for his role in securing oxygen cylinders when the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur ran out of liquid oxygen due to non-payment of a Rs 68 lakh bill to the liquid oxygen supplier. Even though Khan was a junior doctor at the hospital at the time, the UP government has levelled allegations of medical negligence and corruption against him. He remains suspended from the medical college.
Khan is also facing a second departmental inquiry by the UP government about the liquid oxygen disaster at the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur in 2017. He was cleared of medical negligence in the first departmental inquiry in 2019.
In November 2017, the Uttar Pradesh Police also charged Khan with attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy, but not for corruption, in the Gorakhpur oxygen case.
When Khan’s family again moved the Supreme Court against his incarceration in the NSA, Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde on 11 August said the matter involved the “liberty” of the applicant and “requested” the High Court to settle it within 15 days of the next hearing.
The matter was taken up in the Allahabad High Court on 19 August, 24 August and 27 August.
(Editor’s note: The original version of this article erroneously reported that Dr Khan’s detention was extended for a third time in August. It was extended for a second time. The error is regretted).