At a press conference in Delhi, days after activist Umar Khalid was arrested by the police in connection with the Delhi Riots, a group of activists and academics demanded the immediate release of those arrested under the UAPA.
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan slammed the Delhi Police for “framing innocents in a criminal conspiracy”. Bhushan was referring to the hounding of activists, academics and intellectuals in connection with the violence in North-East Delhi between February 23 and 26, which claimed 53 lives.
“How would you describe a situation where the head of the police asks its men to not to question the Hindus because they are furious about the interrogation. We never witnessed this when the policemen injured and blinded people. You have ample evidence to show who were culprits who incited violence in the capital. Yet, You choose to arrest those who were practising their rights as citizens. This only suggest that the police is not investigating a conspiracy but framing innocents under a criminal conspiracy,” Bhushan said, days after Delhi Police booked former Jawaharlal Nehru University student and activist Umar Khalid under the notorious Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for his alleged role in the riots on September 13.
Bhushan said that the conduct of the Delhi Police was rightly questioned by the Delhi High Court. The court had asked the police about action taken against police officers who were pelting stones and breaking CCTV cameras in the capital while the violence was ongoing.
“The police is citing evidence like disclosure statements in the chargesheets, whereas the arrested people deny signing such statement,” he said, referring to Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, who were arrested in May this year. “Further, it cited a WhatsApp group (which) was created to coordinate the violence whereas the contents of the group suggest otherwise. The group was formed to lend support to people who led an exemplary movement to oppose an anti-constitutional law (CAA)...Months ago, we had written to the President for a commision of enquiry into the Delhi Police investigation and the recent charges, and the arrests only validate our concerns,” Bhushan said.
Former Delhi University Teachers’ Association President, Nandita Narain, who spoke before Bhushan, said that the students were jailed because they not only raised slogans of democracy but lived it too. Addressing the media, she said: “I want to read out a portion of a speech that Khalid delivered which was cited as inflammatory. ‘We will not respond to violence with violence. We will not respond to hate with hate. If they spread hate, we will respond with love. If they thrash us with lathis, we will keep holding the tricolour. If they fire bullets, then we will hold the Constitution. If they jail us, we will go to jails singing saare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara.’ Now, how does that incite violence?” she asked.
Narain further referenced statements made by BJP leader Kapil Mishra and union minister Anurag Thakur’s rally, where the slogan ‘Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maro saalon ko,’ was raised. “They still abuse people like us on social media. Did it not incite people to shoot dissidents?” she asked.
Narain said that if one looked at recent history, this was the “fourth cycle of violence supported by the state and its police. In the first cycle, we saw lynchings on streets, in trains and in homes. There was no action. Then, we saw violence in our universities – JNU and Jamia were its victims. We are still awaiting an investigation. The third cycle unfolded in the form of riots in North-East Delhi and we are witnessing the series of arrests now. In any country, they would have been called patriots for critiquing its government. The government thinks the people can be silenced. But we will not be silenced,” she added.
Communist Party of India leader Kanhaiya Kumar, who could not attend the press conference, released a statement which said that leaders like Sitaram Yechury, Yogendra Yadav and academics like Jayati Ghosh, Apporvanand, Saba Dewan have been named for their participation in the protests “whereas leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party have still not been called in for interrogation. It is clear that they have the active support of the government. Thus, calling it an investigation would be unadvisable. It is clearly a case of vendetta,” he said.
In a joint statement, the activists and academics demanded the immediate release of those booked under the stringent UAPA and the setting up of a judicial inquiry commission to punish the “real culprits”.
In a joint statement, they alleged that the democratic voices of dissent are being “gradually implicated”.
The joint statement was issued by Syeda Hameed, writer and former member of erstwhile Planning Commission of India, Bhushan, Kanhaiya Kumar, CPI(ML) politburo member Kavita Krishnan, journalist Pamela Philipose and Narain.
“All democratic voices of dissent are being gradually implicated. This includes students, academicians, artists, politicians and activists. We demand an immediate end to this outrageous investigation that is being conducted with prejudice and malafide intent,” the statement stated.
“We demand that activists booked under the UAPA be immediately released; and a judicial inquiry commission be constituted to punish the real culprits and ensure justice for the Delhi violence,” it added.
On Tuesday, Police Commissioner S.N. Shrivastava had said the force is serving its oath and the Constitution with conviction and integrity and asserted that its investigations in criminal cases are guided by facts and evidence and not by reputations and personalities.
In response to former IPS officer Julio Ribeiro's recent letter in which he had questioned the police's investigation in the Delhi riots, Shrivastava had said there are several entities who have their reasons to weave a “web of deception” and push a “false narrative of bias and insensitivity” on the part of the police.
With PTI input