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India: Court Denies Bail For The Third Time to Muslim Comedian For Jokes He Did Not Make

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A member of the audience who wished not to be named said the witness statements against Faruqui are “total lies”. She categorically denied the allegation against Faruqui. “No derogatory remarks were made by Munawar Faruqui at the Indore show.”

NEW DELHI — A Muslim standup comedian has been in jail in India since January 1st on blasphemy charges for jokes he did not make, and courts have now rejected his plea for bail thrice.

Munawar Faruqui, 30, and his five associates including his friend were detained on New Year’s eve in the central Indian city of Indore when a Hindu vigilante mob led by Aklavya Gaur, son of an influential leader from Modi’s party, stormed the stage and filed the police complaint against them over the allegation of hurting religious sentiments.

On Thursday, on Faruqui’s 30th birthday, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh state issued an order dismissing the bail plea of Faruqui.

 “An organised public show under the garb of stand-up comedy at a public place on commercial lines, prima facie scurrilous, disparaging utterances, outraging religious feelings of a class of citizens of India with deliberate intendment, were made by the applicant”, the court said in its order – adding that it is not a case of no evidence.

It relied on the statements of Guar and another witness but refused to accept the plea by Faruqui’s lawyer who vouched for his innocence. A member of his legal team told The Muslim Vibe that it was surprising to see that the judge relied upon and quoted witness statements in deciding the bail application.

On January 25th Justice Rohit Arya, the judge who heard the case, had stated: “Such people must not be spared.”

Police officials have said that there is no evidence to prove Faruqui cracked “offensive jokes” but it did not matter because he was “going to”.

On January 14th the Article-14 website reported that the Superintendent of Police in Indore, Vijay Khatri, has admitted that no jokes were made about Hinduism in the show. The arrests were made merely on a complaint by the vigilante group.

But the police official still justified the arrest. “It didn’t really matter” whether jokes were cracked, he said, “But, we were told (by the complainants) that when they (comics) were rehearsing before the show, they were cracking jokes about Ram, Shivji.”

Additionally, the eyewitnesses who were part of the audience have rejected the claims made against Faruqui.

A member of the audience who wished not to be named said the witness statements against Faruqui are “total lies”. She categorically denied the allegation against Faruqui. “No derogatory remarks were made by Munawar Faruqui at the Indore show.”

When Gaur and his men got up from the audience, she said, “Munawar hadn’t started performing yet”. He politely clarified his intention and they “dispersed”.

But, 4-5 minutes into his act, more men gathered outside the venue. The organisers backed out. Then police arrived on the scene and arrested Munawar and the other comics.

Since then the police have opened a case against Faruqui in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is also ruled by Modi’s party, over the allegation that there are old videos on the internet showing Farquiui cracking derogatory jokes. The police have obtained warrants against Faruqui which means that when he gets bail in Indore, it would not mean immediate freedom for him and he may be hauled to Uttar Pradesh.

The incarceration of Faruqui has made global headlines with critics saying that he is being punished for his Muslim identity. Md Asif Khan, a social activist based in Mumbai, termed the freedom of expression a majority privilege in India that right-wing Hindus enjoy even in making hate speeches “without facing any legal consequences but a Muslim can’t even think a joke.”

On January 22nd The End Blasphemy Laws Coalition issued a statement denouncing the cases against Faruqui and called on the Indian authorities to uphold its obligations to safeguard freedom of expression by dropping its investigation into the stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui, and releasing him immediately and unconditionally. The intolerance of the criticism of religion and or superstitious practices is all too common in contemporary India, the coalition said in its statement.

It remains to be seen how the case will move forward, as many around the world voice their outcry against this shocking arrest.


Quotes/statements are original reporting by Zafar Aafaq, TMV’s South Asia Editor.

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