Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan was on Thursday awarded a three-year jail term by an MP/MLA court in Rampur that convicted him of hate speech charges over comments made on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others during the 2019 general election campaign.
Azam, who was this year elected MLA from Rampur for the 10th time, was granted bail immediately thereafter by the same court so he could challenge his conviction before a higher court.
While lawmakers sentenced to jail terms of two years or longer are disqualified from membership of their House, Azam is likely to be spared till the higher court decides his appeal if he can secure a stay on the trial court’s order.
“His status as an MLA will remain intact if the high court stays the MP/MLA court’s order,” Rudra Vikram, an advocate, said.
“I am out on bail. I am an admirer of the court. My option of moving the higher court is open,” Azam, who was in the courtroom, told reporters after coming out.
Azam’s speech was delivered in village Khatanagariya on April 7, 2019.
The FIR quotes Azam as having said in Hindi: “Modiji, you have created such an environment in India that life has become difficult for Muslims. They are leading their lives in depression.”
He is quoted as saying: “You (Muslims) take revenge on those who call you puppy and dog.”
Then Gujarat chief minister Modi, asked by Reuters in a 2013 interview whether he regretted the 2002 violence, was quoted as saying that if “someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not?”
Azam, according to the FIR, had in a vituperative tirade also accused the then Rampur collector of having “converted Rampur into hell within a month” and trying “to instigate riots”.
Azam was booked under penal code Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 505A (public mischief) and Section 125 of the Representation of the People Act (promoting enmity between classes in connection with election).
The court of Nishant Man, additional chief judicial magistrate (special court MP/MLA), said in his Hindi order: “Accused Azam Khan made an objectionable speech and used derogatory words in his speech against those holding constitutional posts/ officers, threatened, instigated riots, appealed to a particular community for vote in the name of religion and tried to spread class conflict, which falls in the category of violation of the Model Code of Conduct.”
Apart from the jail sentence, the trial court also handed Azam a fine of Rs 6,000. He was granted bail against two bonds of Rs 25,000 each.
Akash Saxena, a BJP member, had approached the court against Azam’s remark. The BJP fielded Saxena against Azam during this year’s Assembly polls. The first-time contestant lost by about 55,000 votes.
On Thursday, Saxena told The Telegraph over the phone: “We have sent the details to the Election Commission of India and expect that his election would become null and void.”
Azam faces over 50 cases of land-grabbing, intimidation and theft. He was released on bail in May this year on the direction of the Supreme Court after 27 months in jail as an undertrial.