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Conspiracy of Delhi riots? PUCL objects to 'evidence' from unnamed informant

Counterview Desk

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has asked Delhi police commissioner SN Srivastava to “urgently stop motivated and malicious investigation”, and instead carry out “bona fide” investigation into the violence that shook North-East Delhi on February 23-26, 2020, which took 53 lives and caused injured scores of others. 
Asking him to tell the Crime Branch police station, New Delhi, to “stop filing of charge sheet on the basis of fabricated evidence and false confessions in the conspiracy case made out in FIR number 59/2020”, in a letter to Srivastava, Ravi Kiran Jain, president, and Dr V Suresh, general secretary, PUCL, said, they are, no doubt, aware that it is “a mammoth investigation with over 751 FIRs.
Of these FIRs, 61 FIRs are being investigated by Crime Branch, and 689 FIRs are being investigated at the Police Station level and one by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police.
However, the top human rights organization said, it is more concerned over FIR 59/2020, registered at the Crime Branch Police station and being investigated by the Special Cell, Delhi police, examining the conspiracy angle of the Delhi riots.
Claimed PUCL, this FIR was registered on March 6, 2020, by an officer of the Crime Branch “based solely on ‘information’ by an unnamed informant under very simple sections of the IPC 147/148/149/120B, relating to conspiracy, for unlawful assembly and rioting among others.”
“It is matter of great alarm the manner in which Delhi police is trying to beef up an otherwise hollow foundation and has added charges which include19 IPC Sections -- 120 (B) read with 302, 307, 124 (A), 153 A, 109, 114, 147, 148, 149, 186, 212, 353, 395, 427, 435, 436, 452, 34, and sections 3 and 4 of the PDPP Act, sections 25 & 27 of the Arms Act and sections 13, 16, 17, 18 of the UAPA”, It added.
As the charge-sheet in this matter is to be filed before September 17, 2020, PUCL said, it decided to draw the police commissioner’s attention to "several concerns" regarding the investigation under FIR 59/20, and seek his "urgent intervention and assurances".

Excerpts from PUCL concerns:

1. False theory of conspiracy by all those who were part of the movement against CAA: 

§ The scrutiny of several other charge-sheets that have already been filed in the riots cases, indicates that the Delhi Police is developing a theory of a wide-ranging and deep-rooted conspiracy to cause violence between communities in February 2020, allegedly to destabilize India and ruin its international image. It is alleged that the planning into this violence preceded even the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAA), on December 11, 2020. 
The entire democratic movement against the CAA, which many legal experts in India and outside and Special Rapporteurs of UN have opined is unjust, unconstitutional and against India’s obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is sought to be criminalised and is being projected as the front for this conspiracy.
§ In order to build a foundation of conspiracy and book people under UAPA, chargesheets like the latest Supplementary charge-sheet in FIR No. 50/2020, Jaffrabad Police station shows the motivated investigation that the Delhi police have indulged in. 
The frequent clubbing of the terms "anti-CAA protestor/rioter" in the chargesheet shows a predetermined mindset of the Delhi police to project every law abiding citizen, who in exercise of their fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and in the performance of their fundamental duties to defend the country and its Constitution, protested against an unjust law. 
It is a matter of great concern that statements which the persons in police remand denied making, have been made the basis to implicate more law abiding citizens, with the clear motive to target eminent academics and university professors, writers, film makers, civil society activists, political party leaders and also MLAs as being the instigators, mobilisers of road blocks and motivators of dharnas, in order to build a baseless case. 
There is hardly any circumstantial or electronic evidence, to even show any involvement; yet, brazenly such chargesheets implicating people have been filed, to build a larger case of being conspirators of the violence.
The invoking of UAPA is not only an abuse of law but it is in fact trivialising a law which was enacted to deal with serious threats
§ Under this wide ambit, a large number of people continue to be interrogated and arrested, as conspirators and provocateurs. This includes young people from the Muslim community, senior activists, academics, writers, professors, cultural artistes, trade-unionists who supported the anti-CAA protests.
§ The interrogation of more than 60 people under FIR 59/2020, shows a clear line of investigation -- every activity which was part of the peaceful anti-CAA protest is now being made suspect. Even a women's solidarity yatra, wherein a group of women over three days visited a dozen sites, is now suspect. 
Visits to dharna sites to make speeches on the CAA is being looked upon as provocation, discussion on whether a road block should happen or not, which is a strategy used by all protests, is being considered as the gravest criminal offence that could have occurred, more important than the road block itself.
§ A WhatsApp group, the Delhi Protest Solidarity Group (DPSG), comprised of a motley group of people, who were there with a simple objective as citizens to support a people’s movement, is being made out to be some dangerous hub of this alleged criminal conspiracy. Discussions on this group are being taken out of context and being presented as a part of the ‘sinister’ plan to provoke violence.

2. Manufacturing of evidence through custodial interrogations and coerced confessions

§ Twenty people arrested under this FIR were subjected to custodial interrogation, amongst whom, it is reliably learnt, at least 5 were allegedly forced to make confessions. The actual number may be higher. Of these 20 people, 17 persons have been booked under sections 13, 16, 17 and 18 of the UAPA, and remain incarcerated. 
The invoking of UAPA sections is to clearly ensure that those arrested do not get bail for the next five years or more. The invoking of UAPA is not only an abuse of law but it is in fact trivialising a law which was enacted to deal with serious threats and was not meant to crush democratic and constitutionally guaranteed rights.
§ Additionally, over 40 people said they were interrogated. Some young people were repeatedly called, kept till late into the night, and asked to sign on pre-drafted texts of "confessions". Some refused and some succumbed under pressure.
§ In other riots case also, people have reported being coerced during police interrogation. 
§ A scrutiny by independent media found the following:
  • In the Ankit Sharma charge-sheet (FIR 65/20), Dayalpur Police station, presented by the Delhi Police, there were 4 identical ‘confessional’ statements.
  • There were 7 identical statements in the Ratan Lal (FIR 60/20), Dayalpur police station, chargesheet. 
  • And there were 10 identical statements in the Jaffrabad police station, (FIR 50/20) charge-sheet. 
  • In a fourth charge-sheet of the Dilbar Negi case (FIR number 39/20) Thana, Gokulpuri, the Indian Express found that 9 out of 12 confessional statement were near verbatim copies of each other. 
This pattern of coerced statements and false evidence is alarming.
§ We are all aware that confessional statements made in police custody have little evidentiary value in court. Yet, they are being repeatedly leaked to select media, to build a public opinion and allow a media trial. This has already vilified and harmed people like Professor Apoorvanand and Dr Umar Khalid. 
It has also vilified Asif Iqbal Tanha, Meeran Haider, Tahir Hussain, Gulfisha, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, Khalid Saifi, Sharjeel Imam and others who remain incarcerated. All this is happening despite High Court orders in the Devangana Kalita case asking the police to stop such leaks of information of ongoing investigation. 

3. Shocking nature of biased narrative being presented in several charge-sheets

We draw your attention to the kind of utterly absurd story that has thus far been presented in some of the charge-sheets:
§ The background in several charge-sheets has targeted simple speeches like that of Harsh Mander (a widely respected former senior IAS officer), given to protesting students of Jamia Millia Islamia on December 16, claiming that this speech "behind the facade of peace", provoked unlawful acts and violence, when there is nothing to prove such an allegation.
The frequent clubbing of the terms 'anti-CAA protestor/rioter' in the chargesheet shows a predetermined mindset of the Delhi police
The speech, which actually called for peace, love and non-violence, is in the public domain. It falls within the domain of the right to freedom of speech and expression recognised in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
§ Several charge-sheets contain elaborate flow charts, alleging entirely fictitious layers of planning, and alleging that this wide range of people who supported the movement against CAA were all part of a well-coordinated conspiracy -- this includes people like film maker Rahul Roy, student activist Kanwalpreet and others from AISA, members of  `Pinjra Tod’, the young women students group from several Universities in Delhi and others from the Delhi based group of activists, called the `United Against Hate’ working for secularism in the country. 
The Delhi police has not even spared DS Bindra, a philanthropist from the Sikh community, who sold a flat to feed people at dharna sites, and Dr Anwar of Al Hind Hospital who deposed over the phone in the midnight hearing in front of a High Court judge, regarding ambulances being prevented from reaching his hospital to take the injured to specialised hospitals in Delhi. These allegations of conspiracy have no basis in fact, or in evidence.
§ There appears to be a race to implicate as many bonafide law abiding citizens into a non-existent conspiracy case in the chargesheet which is to be filed. Clearly this investigation is leading farther and farther away from the real rioters. It appears that it is being carried out solely to spread fear among citizens so as to silence all democratic activities and not for the purpose of bringing the real perpetrators of the violence to book.

4. We urge you to uphold sanctity of due process, conduct a fair and just investigation, as mandated by the law, CrPC and the Delhi Police rules

We appeal to yo to ensure a fair and just investigation into the violence that shook Northeast Delhi in end February, 2020 so that the real perpetrators are brought to book. We look up to you to restore faith in the Delhi Police’s investigation.
We urge the Delhi Police to probe into the matter with the skills and objectivity that it has been trained for, following the constitutional mandates and established procedures of law, and not pursue this malicious line which appears to be politically motivated.
We are constrained to point out that the Delhi police seem to be abdicating its constitutional duty to conduct independent, fair and objective investigation. The fact that the police is not investigating the role played by BJP leaders, like Kapil Mishra and others in actually instigating and promoting the violence, despite so much electronic evidence of speeches, social media posts being available only deepens our concern.
We would like to point out that we are not alone in pointing out to the patently partisan role seemingly played by the Delhi Police. Very senior former police officers, including well known former DGP level officers, eminent and experienced former IAS, IFS and Central Services officers and a large number of citizens, media as well as the Delhi Minorities Commission are asking the same questions.
*** 
We have come to know from media reports that Dr Umar Khalid, a promising young scholar, who believes in the power of Gandhian non-violent, peaceful means for bringing about communal harmony and peace thereby strengthening secularism, was arrested by the Delhi police late last night on September 13, 2020.
It is pertinent to point out that he is a law abiding citizen and that he has always voluntarily appeared before the police whenever summons were issued for his presence. There is no fear of him fleeing justice. This being the case, there is absolutely no legal necessity to justify his arrest. This only underscores our concern about the Delhi police engaging in arbitrary arrest and conducting a partial, biased and politically motivated investigation.
We appeal that a fair and just probe be ensured. That all arbitrary arrests be immediately stopped and all those incarcerated be released. It is important that there is no travesty of justice in investigation and the truth, with evidence, is presented to the courts. 
The smallest tribute that can be paid to the numerous lives lost during the NE Delhi violence is to ensure that the true perpetrators are brought to book. It will also be the biggest demonstration that ultimately it is the rule of law and the Indian Constitution that triumphs in our country.

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