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Gujarat, Assam govts plot to silence top Dalit rights leader: PUCL on Mevani's arrest

Counterview Desk 

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Gujarat, condemning the arrest of prominent Dalit rights leader and Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani by Assam police in a late night operation at a Circuit House in a North Gujarat town has said that it raises the suspicion that the arrest took place on instructions from above.
In a statement, PUCL activists including veteran litterateur Prakash N Shah, top environmentalist Rohit Prajapati (9408986452) and Dalit rights leader Govind Parmar, have said, “The manner in which MLA Jignesh Mevani was illegally arrested on the basis of an FIR which could at best be called frivolous and silly, actually reveals a coordinated effort by both the Assam and Gujarat governments to ensure that Jignesh Mevani is silenced.”

Text:

Jignesh Mevani, the MLA of Vadgam Constituency was arrested late night on the 20th of April, 2022 from the government circuit house in Palanpur, the district headquarters of Banaskantha district.
The arrest has been based on a complaint (Case number 183/2022, Kokrajhar Thana, Sections, 120(b), 153(a), 295 (a), 504, 505(1) (b) (c) (2) IPC, sec, 66 IT act) filed by Arup Kumar Dey from Khokrajar, Assam (a member of the BJP close to the CM of Assam, and a member of the Bodo Autonomous Council), taking offence to Jignesh Mevani’s tweet that appealed to the Prime Minister to take action to restore peace in Himmatnagar and Khambhat where there was communal violence following Ram Navami processions.
In the said tweet Jignesh Mevani had described the PM in a way that has allegedly been offensive as described in the FIR. In politics there are innumerable such instances of sarcastic descriptions of leaders, allegations and satirical remarks made against each other that are used to make their political points. The intent of the tweet is crystal clear, i.e. to appeal to the PM to take appropriate action to restore peace, which is a laudable intent on the part of a responsible political leader who is also an MLA.
It is inconceivable how the Assam police could have made out such offences through the various sections invoked; how an appeal to the PM for restoring communal harmony could be construed as an insult to a religion, cause enmity and disaffection among different groups or communities or be a provocation causing breach of public peace (153 A, 295, 504); and how this tweet could be the result of a conspiracy (120 B). It is absolutely clear, that the entire set of charges are baseless, and the police have been instructed to invoke these sections so that he could be arrested and kept under custody without bail for a long time.

Arbitrary, illegal arrest

It is important for the law enforcement agencies to be able to verify if the content of a complaint has any element of criminality in it, if there is any aspect that falls within the ‘reasonable restrictions’ that apply to the fundamental right of speech and expression, and if there is any urgency or advantage in arresting the person against whom the complaint has been filed.
Instead, the Assam police has invoked non-bailable offences such as120(B), 153(A), 504, and many more sections including Sec 66 of the IT Act against Jignesh Mevani without any application of mind, giving credence to the suspicion that they have been instructed ‘from above’ to do so.
More seriously, by arresting Jignesh Mevani, the police has violated the basic conditions that need to be fulfilled in order to arrest a person, as laid down clearly in Sec 41(A) of the CrPC, namely (i) the possibility of the accused running away from justice (ii) the possibility of tampering with or destruction of evidence and (iii) the possibility of intimidation of witnesses to prevent them from providing evidence.
Jignesh Mevani being an MLA and a public figure there is absolutely no possibility of running away from justice. The evidence in this case is a tweet, electronic in nature, and is available to the police, and there can be no tampering possible by the accused. And there are no witnesses to intimidate in this case. The Assam police has failed in satisfying any of the conditions that need to be fulfilled to arrest a person.
Hence the arrest is a blatant violation of the law unambiguously laid down by the Supreme Court in the Joginder kumar vs the State of UP (1994). It is therefore surprising that the magistrate before whom Jignesh Mevani was produced also did not consider if the conditions for arrest have been fulfilled. He chose to just mention that the sections invoked were non-bailable and that the case diary of the police had ‘incriminating information’ about Jignesh Mevani.
In this instance, a whole team of Assam Police arrived in Gujarat, and took Jignesh Mevani all the way to Assam by flight, spending public money. Any person with common sense can make out that this tweet poses no threat to public order, no threat to any person in Assam or any other place in the whole country; it is also absolutely clear that this political tweet does not have any malicious reference that could hurt members of a religious group or specific community.
The only action that the Assam Police could have legally done was to issue a summons to Jignesh Mevani. They could have also deployed easier and sensible ways of recording the statement of the accused, there could be video conferences, telephonic conversations, questionnaire sent by emails –by way of preliminary inquiry, following which if an offence were established the accused could be arrested and taken into remand for further investigation.

A coordinated effort of two state governments to intimidate and silence a voice of opposition

The manner in which MLA Jignesh Mevani was illegally arrested on the basis of an FIR which could at best be called frivolous and silly, actually reveals a coordinated effort by both the Assam and Gujarat governments to ensure that Jignesh Mevani is silenced.
The reports of the intimidation of the members of Jignesh Mevani’s family members and his associates in Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM) just before his arrest by Assam Police also points to this coordinated effort of the Gujarat and Assam Police. The following facts which emerged from media reports further strengthens this suspicion:
  1. Ahmedabad police arrived at four addresses connected to Jignesh Mevani April 21 morning.
  2. Ahmedabad Crime Branch visited the office of RDAM in Rakhiyal, Ahmedabad, and seized the desktop and its CPU.
  3. Ahmedabad Police visited the home of Jignesh Mevani’s associate Kamlesh Katariya in Rakhial, Ahmedabad and seized his mobile.
  4. Police then went to Mevani’s MLA quarters and seized two desktops, CPUs, some posters and the mobile phones of two of his associates.
  5. The police also went to the residence of Satish, Jignesh Mevani’s personal assistant in Palanpur. Not finding him there, the police in an act of total violation of all norms of propriety and the law, seize his parents’ mobile phones.
  6. The police also searched Jignesh Mevani’s home in Meghaninagar, Ahmedabad and confiscated some files in the presence of his father.
  7. The police also seized the mobile belonging to Jagdish Chavda of RDAM. He resides near Jignesh Mevani’s home in Ahmedabad
These actions of the Gujarat Police on the 21st of April followed by the arrest of Jignesh Mevani by the Assam Police raises concerns of vengeful state action against a political opponent by the governments of Assam and Gujarat. The harassment of his associates and ageing parents through raids and seizure on mobile phones files etc. make the mala fide intent of the state of Gujarat amply clear.
It also gives the impression that the series of coordinated actions have been a ploy on the part of the two governments working in tandem to silence and malign an opposition leader, also an MLA, and a vocal critic of the state government and the ruling party BJP, which is in power in Assam as well as the Centre.
It may also be important to note that through the illegal arrest of Jignesh Mevani and the intimidation of his associates by the two state governments, the real issues pertaining to the communal riots in Khambhat and Himmatnagar, regarding which he had appealed to the PM in his tweet, have already been sidelined.
Such arbitrary actions and brazen violation of laws on the on the part of the state hits at the roots of the freedoms, rights, procedures and civil liberties guaranteed under the constitution. PUCL condemns the arbitrary action of the Assam Police and the Gujarat (Ahmedabad) Police, and demands that MLA Jignesh Mevani be released immediately and close the frivolous case that has been filed against him. PUCL also demands that the intimidation of Jignesh Mevani’s associates in the RDAM and the members of his family be stopped forthwith.

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