The Delhi High Court Tuesday sought response of the Centre and the police on two separate pleas by 23 foreigners seeking quashing of FIRs against them for attending the Tablighi Jamaat event here and allegedly indulging in missionary activities in violation of visa norms and breaching anti-COVID-19 guidelines. Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani, conducting the hearing through video conferencing, asked the Centre and Delhi Police to file their status reports on the issue before the next date of hearing, August 10, when similar petitions are also listed.
The high court also asked the police to submit a tabulated summary of all the FIRs and charge sheets, filed or to be filed before the trial court, along with their present status. The court was informed that these 23 foreigners, who have filed two separate petitions, have already admitted their guilt in the FIR lodged by the crime branch of Delhi Police in the matter and pleaded for lenient punishments under the provisions of plea bargaining.
They were allowed to walk free on payment of varying fines and pleading guilty for minor offences related to the COVID-19 lockdown violations, the counsel for the foreigners said, adding that their deportation orders were also issued. However, they are not able to fly back to their countries due to the pendency of other FIRs lodged at various police stations here, said advocate Ashima Mandla, representing the foreign nationals.
When the petitioners wanted to go back to their countries, it transpired that a second FIR is also pending against each of them and the charge sheet has been filed before the trial court, she said. These 23 petitioners are nationals of Australia, South Africa, Indonesia and Sri Lanka and are arrayed as accused in the charge sheets filed by the police. The counsel also informed the high court that two foreign nationals of the United States of America have refused to enter into plea bargaining and have claimed trial.
The court asked them to be removed from the list of petitioners as they will have to raise their grievances before the trial court. The counsel contended that the police cannot lodge separate FIRs for the same alleged offence and they are unable to go back due to look out circulars (LOCs) being opened against them.
She said while the first FIR was lodged on March 31, this second FIR by the police was filed later on and added that the foreign nationals were not informed of these additional FIRs before the Saket court where they pleaded guilty.
In the two petitions filed by advocates Ashima Mandla and Mandakini Singh, the petitioners have sought quashing of two FIRs registered at various police stations under various sections of IPC and the Epidemic Diseases Act.
The petitioners said that the FIRs registered at other police stations are untenable in law in light of foreign nationals having entered plea bargaining in the same charges registered by the crime branch. They have also sought directions to the respondents to close the LoC issued qua foreign national petitioners. In the case being probed by the crime branch, the foreign national petitioners have duly entered plea bargaining and consequent deportation orders have been issued by the court.
They said that the allegations in the FIRs before this court are similar to the FIR of crime branch, in which 911 of the 955 foreigner jamaatis have entered into plea bargaining “Under the law, second FIR is impermissible and there is an operational bar from prosecution of same offences arising out of the corresponding cause of action under Article 20(2) of the constitution of India( widely known as doctrine of double jeopardy) as well as section 300 of the CrPC,” the pleas said.
In April, COVID-19 cases across the country spiked after hundreds of many Tablighi Jamaat members, who had attended the religious congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz in the national capital, tested positive. At least 9,000 people, including the foreign nationals participated in the religious congregation in Nizamuddin. Later, many of the attendees travelled to various parts of the country.