Lucknow: At a time when the entire country is fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic, the Uttar Pradesh police’s unending “witch-hunt” of activists, who were active in the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), continues.
In a major development, the Uttar Pradesh police on Wednesday filed a chargesheet against 297 people for their alleged involvement in violent protests against the CAA at the iconic Ghanta Ghar in Lucknow, on December 19, 2019. The state government is also planning on booking around 18 protesters who “instigated” violence, under the National Security Act (NSA).
Lucknow Police Commissioner Sujit Pandey confirmed that a chargesheet has been filed in the court against the 297 people arrested in connection with the case. Out of those arrested, action has been taken against 68 accused under provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, 1986, while 28 persons have been charged under the U.P. Control Of Goondas Act, 1970. Non-bailable warrants have been issued against 43 accused in the same case.
"The conspiracy of some organisations, including the Popular Front of India (PFI), was found behind the violent demonstration. Officials of these organisations were also arrested and sent to jail. We plan to impose the NSA on the 18 accused," the police commissioner said.
A group of social activists, who had opposed the controversial citizenship law, have alleged that the government is continuing with a "witch-hunt" despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sadaf Jafar, a social activist and Congress leader, the lone woman arrested in Lucknow following the protest on December 19 who was in jail for two weeks, said the UP police’s move was an attempt to divert people's attention from the state government's failures.
“Though the police have not revealed the names of those who have been mentioned in the chargesheet, they have spoken about the number of persons that have been booked under NSA and Goonda Act to create fear,” she said.
“At a time when doctors are battling the novel coronavirus, journalists are putting themselves at risk to document stories of COVID-19 and citizens are in the midst of the turmoil caused by the pandemic, the Uttar Pradesh police has chosen to engage its time and personnel to target minorities and social activists by filing the chargesheet," Jafar told NewsClick. She added that the police action comes at a time when the UP government under CM Yogi Adityanath is grappling with a series of scams, including one pertaining to the recruitment of 69,000 posts in the UP basic education department. Jafar said that atrocities against Dalits are at a peak under the right-wing government and the migrants’ crisis has exposed its failings.
Mohammad Shoaib, human rights activist and founder of the Rihai Manch, was detained for a month at the Lucknow district jail for allegedly participating in protests at Parivartan Chowk in the city. He said that the UP government wanted to curtail the voices of dissent through “wrongful prosecutions and false charges”.
On Tuesday, June 16, Jafar and Shoaib were shocked to learn that the UP police has filed two more FIRs against the duo at Thakurganj police station, in connection with the protests against CAA and NRC.
“I knew that my name was in two FIRs in connection with the protests against the CAA in Lucknow, but on Tuesday, I found out that the UP police have booked me under two more FIRs. I came to know this when I was summoned to the Thakurganj police station to complete formalities pertaining to them,” she told NewsClick.
According to Jafar, out the two FIRs, one was registered at the Thakurganj police station on January 18. “It listed six crimes including unlawful assembly and rioting. The second FIR, registered at the same police station on January 25, had almost similar sections,” she told NewsClick. “This action by the UP government is vindictive, and under the pretext of containing a pandemic, it is suppressing the voices of those who have been at the forefront of opposing the draconian law," she added.
Jafar said that she is now booked under four FIRs, containing 34 criminal provisions in all.
Similarly, Shoaib also knew of one FIR with his name in it. However, in March, he came to know that the UP police had booked him under two more FIRS. “I was called upon by the Thakurganj police station in March, and learned that I am booked under two more FIRs for participating in a protest against the CAA and NRC. The government is doing all this just to threaten us,” he added. “A police officer at Thakurganj police station asked me how many more cases should be filed against me, and handed over a notice. They are increasing the number of cases against us so they can keep us in prison indefinitely without bail," he alleged.
Notice for Property Attachment
In its latest move, the UP government sought damages to public property, and on Wednesday, asked several people, including Sadaf Jafar, S.R. Darapuri, Mohammad Shoaib and Robin Verma, to cough up more than Rs 64 lakhs. The administration claims that damage was done to public and government properties during the protests in the Hazratganj area of Lucknow on December 19, 2019.
The notice read: "You have to pay Rs 64,27,637 within seven days for public property damage during the protest. You have been given seven days' time to respond why action should not be taken against you, failing which, proceedings will be initiated to attachment of property or detention and arrest."
Darapuri called the exercise undemocratic. “The district administration is sending such notices to terrorise us. I was under house arrest and did not take part in any demonstration. Still, they are sending me notices to confiscate my property. This is the second time in a row that they have sent me such a notice. The first time, it was sent by the ADM city, but I did not receive any official notice by the administration. I came to know that when the government put up 'name and shame' hoardings across the city," he said, adding that the matter has already been challenged in the Supreme Court.