New Delhi: Raising doubts over the impartiality of the ongoing investigation by the police into the communal violence that ravaged the national capital in February this year, leaving 53 dead, a Delhi lower court on May 27 observed that the probe seems to be targeted “only towards one end”.
“Perusal of the case diary reveals a disturbing fact. The investigation seems to be targeted only towards one end. Upon enquiry from Inspector Lokesh and Anil, they have failed to point out what investigation has been carried out so far regarding the involvement of the rival faction,” said Additional Sessions Judge (Patiala House Court), Dharmender Rana, while remanding Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha to judicial custody till June 25.
The court also urged the top cop concerned to ensure a fair probe. “In view of the same,” the court said, the “concerned DCP (deputy commissioner of police) is requested to monitor the investigation and ensure fair investigation”.
Tanha was last week arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police in connection with FIR number 59/2020, related to the North East Delhi communal violence.
Reacting to the court, Tanha’s lawyer Sowjhanya Shankaran in her brief comment, told Newsclick, “It’s an important observation that the investigation should be monitored by the DCP concerned.”
Many believe that the court could be referring to the series of recent arrests of those who were protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and allegedly going soft on people affiliated with Right wing groups who may have taken part in the communal violence.
Tahna was picked by the Special Cell for interrogation on May 16 evening for interrogation but was arrested the next day by the Crime Branch, Chanakypuri, Delhi, under FIR No. 298/2019, which pertains to violence near Jamia on December 15 last year.
Duty Magistrate (South East) Archana Beniwal, before whom Tanha was produced in Saket court, had refused to hand over his custody to the police as he was already interrogated by the police at least thrice in the past and a chargesheet has already been filed in the case, wherein the investigators have said that his role in the incident was yet to ascertained and that a supplementary chargesheet would be filed against him and other co-accused.
Tanha was sent to 14-day judicial custody. Two days later, the Special Cell moved an application before Special Judge Ajay Kumar Jain, seeking police remand of the accused for seven days under FIR No. 59/2020 concerning the Delhi violence. The request was granted and the Tihar Jail superintendent was directed to hand over his custody to the Inspector Lokesh.
“With this”, said many activists who are monitoring the cases and accuse the police of “biased investigation.
After the Ministry of Home Affairs reportedly asked the Delhi Police to ensure the probe into the communal violence does not slow down because of the ongoing lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 1,300 accused — according to Additional Commissioner and PRO MS Randhawa — have been arrested in over 750 cases concerning the riots.
The spate of arrests during the lockdown has triggered protests by activists who are alleging a “witch-hunt of the anti-CAA protestors”. They also alleged that the police was going soft on Right wingers and was mainly targeting anti-CAA protesters, especially Muslims.
Apart from Tanha, the Delhi Police has arrested Safoora Zargar and Meeran Haidar — both research scholars at Jamia and members of the Jamia Coordination Committee or JCC which was spearheading the protest against the controversial citizenship legislation in the university campus. The other arrests include Shifa-ur-Rehman, president of the Alumni Association of Jamia Millia Islamia (AAJMI) and a member of the JCC, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, who are associated with Pinjra Tod, a women students’ collective, and activists Khalid Saifi, Ishrat Jahan and Gulfishan (a student and anti-CAA activist from Jaffrabad), among others.
The FIR in connection with the riots in North East Delhi that was registered initially by the Crime Branch had all bailable sections. Three Popular Front of India (PFI) activists, who were arrested on March 12, were granted bail on March 14, with Judge Prabh Deep Kaur reprimanding the IO for not granting them bail on the day of the arrest.
“It is a settled principle that in bailable offences, it is the duty of the IO to offer bail to the accused persons at the first instance. There is no explanation by the IO as to why he had not offered bail to the accused persons at the first instance as per the constitutional as well as procedural mandate,” the judge had said.
This particular FIR was again evoked when Congress leader Ishrat Jahan, a lawyer arrested from Khureji in East Delhi, was granted bail in her previous case on March 21. She, along with Khalid Saifi, was re-arrested under this FIR and some more stringent Sections, like Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), were added. Ishrat’s bail was subsequently rejected.
On April 13, Safoora Zargar, who is in the second trimester of her pregnancy, was arrested for her alleged involvement in violence at Jaffrabad where anti-CAA protestors, mainly women, had blocked the main road. While she was granted bail in that case, the police re-arrested her under FIR No 59.
Similarly, Gulfisha was arrested in connection with the Jaffrabad violence and after getting bail in that case, she was re-arrested under this FIR.
After the arrest of Safoora Zargar and Meeran Haidar under FIR No. 59, the police revealed that they have added four sections from the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA in the FIR.
Notably, there is no clarity so far as to who all have been booked under UAPA. Since the UAPA Sections have been inserted in the FIR by the Special Cell when the case was transferred to it for investigations, all detainees in effect under this FIR have now been potentially slapped with the UAPA.
Shifa-ur-Rehman has also been booked under this FIR.
“The chronology is very clear: first a person is arrested under some case, and when he/she gets or is about to get bail in the case, they are implicated in this particular FIR, which was registered under bailable offences and has now been turned into almost an anti-terror case,” said some activists who wished to remain anonymous.
The activists alleged targeting of anti-CAA activists was being done to frame them as “dreaded terrorists” who were “responsible” for the Delhi communal violence. Moreover, the FIR is vaguely worded and makes sweeping generalisations and accusations, which makes it easy to be used against anybody,” alleged the activists.
Incidentally, though the majority of the victims of the communal violence are Muslims, all the arrested persons under this FIR so far are also Muslims. “This clearly shows the prejudice of the Delhi Police and how they are using the pretext of the Delhi riots to target, frame and witch-hunt anti-CAA activists,” some activists said,
However, these allegations were strongly refuted by the police, which said in terms of the proportion of the arrested, the number from the two communities is almost “identical”.
“Further, it may also be added that all arrests are based on scientific and technical evidence, since the responsibility cast upon the police goes much beyond, in prosecuting the arrested accused before a court of law where every bit of evidence is scrutinised thread bare,” the police said in a rejoinder given to an English daily in response to an article published there.