A court designated to try parliamentarians and legislators on Thursday convicted Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Azam Khan in a 2019 hate speech case and sentenced him to three years in jail, which experts said could result in his losing his status as an MLA. The court also fined of ₹25,000 but granted him bail and seven days to file an appeal against the verdict.
The MP/MLA court in Rampur found Khan guilty of hate speech during the 2019 general election campaign against then Rampur district magistrate Aunjaneya Kumar Singh, chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress candidate Sanjay Kapoor.
Khan was present in court when additional chief judicial magistrate (MP/MLA court) Nishant Maan pronounced the sentence.
Due to the conviction, Khan – a 10-time lawmaker from Rampur – faces a loss of his assembly membership if a higher court doesn’t temporarily suspend his sentence or acquit him.
“This was the maximum punishment in this case and bail was a mandatory provision…I have firm belief in justice,” Khan said outside court but refused to answer queries about his membership of the state assembly.
On April 7, 2019, Khan addressed a rally in Milak area where he said harsh words against the then Rampur district magistrate Aunjaneya Kumar Singh, chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress candidate Sanjay Kapoor.
On April 9, a first information report (FIR) was lodged against him at the Milak Kotwali police station in Rampur by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Akash Saxena for the provocative speech. The FIR was lodged under sections 153a (promoting enmity between two groups) and 505-1 (statement conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code, along with section 125 of the Representation of the People Act 1951.
Khan eventually won the election from Rampur.
He vacated his Lok Sabha seat after being elected to the state assembly in March 2022. He won the assembly election from Rampur while being lodged in Sitapur prison.
Khan has secured bail in 87 cases except one registered at Milak Kotwali police station, Rampur. This is the first case in which he has been convicted. In Sitapur prison, he was lodged during trial of these cases.
Experts said the conviction threatened his MLA status. “After conviction by the trial court and pronouncement of prison term of two years or more, an MLA or MP loses membership of the state assembly or Parliament as the case may be,” said Gyan Singh Chauhan, senior advocate of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court.
The BJP criticised the leader. “Azam Khan is getting paid for his deeds. When the SP was in power, Azam Khan committed atrocities. Now, he will be brought to justice,” said BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi.
A senior SP leader said, “Won’t comment on the verdict. But many top BJP leaders during the polls had made hate speeches. None faced such consequences. Azam Khan saab had been a victim of injustice and vendetta politics.”
The SP leader faces nearly 90 cases, including that of corruption and theft.