Amid the COVID pandemic, early this year in April, an international Muslim missionary group, the Tablighi Jamaat, was accused of worsening the health emergency in India. The congregation which took place on March 13-15 in Delhi was declared a 'super-spreader'.
The Centre had blacklisted over 900 foreign nationals, accusing them of violating COVID guidelines, VISA norms, indulging in missionary activities by participating in a Jamaat congregation in Delhi's Nizamuddin area.
Later, some state governments came up with desperate operations to identify the Tablighis, who had moved out of Delhi. Some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders accused the gathering of deteriorating the country's COVID situation. Many even referred to Tablighis as "terrorists", blaming them for "for moving around like a bomb" and referred to the event as a "Talibani crime".
Months after the incident, a Delhi court on Tuesday, December 15, acquitted 36 foreigners who were charge-sheeted for attending the event as the prosecution failed to "prove the presence of accused inside the Markaz premises".
Referring to contradictions in the statements of witnesses, the court pointed at the probability that "none of them was present at Markaz during the relevant period and they had been picked up from different places so as to maliciously prosecute them upon directions from Ministry of Home Affairs…"
"It is beyond comprehension of the court, as to how IO (Inspector Satish Kumar) could have identified 952 foreign nationals out of 2,343 persons who, as per SHO, were found flouting the guidelines, without any Test Identification Parade (TIP), but on the basis of list provided by MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs)," the court said.
"The SHO was aware of the actual number of persons gathered at Markaz since the beginning and still failed to take any timely measures to ensure dispersal of the said gatherings despite being aware of Government guidelines," it said.
"Else, if he was not so aware of the actual or even approximate numbers staying inside Markaz till the last day of evacuation exercise, he in all probability is deposing falsely about his daily visits to Markaz…In any case, his testimony has failed to pass the test of creditworthiness and hence identification by him of the accused persons in the court is not sufficient to discharge the onus of prosecution to prove the presence of accused at Markaz during the relevant period," the court said.
In August, the Bombay High Court criticised the "scapegoating" of Tablighis for the pandemic.
"It is now time to repent this action and take positive steps to repair the damage," it said.