Mere Claim of Association with ISIS terrorist, not Enough to Show Association to the Outfit: Madras HC

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Court was dealing with the plea of one Mohamed Irfan, a meat dealer accused of conspiring to establish Islamic rule in India

In a significant verdict, the Madras High Court has ruled that merely threatening someone by claiming association with an ISIS terrorist does not automatically establish one's membership in the organization amounting to an offence under Section 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967.

"The prosecution has to establish the support to the terrorist organisation by independent evidence," said the division bench of Justices SS Sundar and Sunder Mohan to one Mohamed Irfan, a meat dealer accused of conspiring to establish Islamic rule in India.

The order was passed in Irfan's appeal against rejection of his bail plea by a Special NIA court in a case, where he was accused of offences under Section 18 of the UAPA for conspiring to commit a terrorist act and Section 39 relating to support given to a terrorist organization.

According to the prosecution, Sathick Batcha, the primary accused in a case at the Mayiladuthurai police station, was intercepted with arms in a Mahindra Scorpio on February 21, 2022. Allegedly, Irfan and the other accused were in the car, leading to their arrest on charges under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Arms Act.

The case took a turn when the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over, re-registering it under relevant IPC sections and UAPA provisions. The NIA alleged that Irfan, associated with Batcha, aimed to establish Islamic rule in India akin to the ISIS ideology.

The NIA cited conspiracy meetings at specific locations and referred to witness statements and WhatsApp group messages as evidence. The court, however, emphasized that a mere threat, even if associating with ISIS, does not automatically constitute support to a terrorist organization under Section 39 of the UAPA.

The bench, after perusal of the evidence, including the statement of a protected witness allegedly threatened by Irfan, concluded that while the threat might be an offence, it doesn't necessarily qualify as support to a terrorist organization. The court highlighted the need for independent evidence to establish such support.

Additionally, the court noted that the allegation against Irfan that he handled funds for Batcha did not infer support for a terrorist organization, distinguishing between support to an individual and support to a terrorist organization. Support to an individual is different from support to a terrorist organisation, the bench said. 

Accordingly, while also highlighting that Irfan had been in custody since February 2022, the bench exercised its powers to grant bail to him.

Case Title: Mohamed Irfan V. Union of India