GUJARAT RIOTS

CBI raids Teesta Setalvad's home two weeks before Gujarat high court hears case against Modi's 'clean chit'

Both the Gujarat and central government have been making a concerted effort to pin down charges against the human rights activist.

Around 12 officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation raided the house of human rights activist Teesta Setalvad without any warning on Tuesday, a week after the Union Home Ministry transferred its investigation into her finances to the investigation agency.

A lawyer associated with the activist said the raid lasted 23 hours and that it had been conducted with the "sole intention...to embarrass and humiliate". However, the press officer of the CBI, Kanchan Prasad, claimed that the raid on Setalvad's house had been completed by evening.

As with several other cases filed against her in the past, Setalvad came to know about the case being transferred to the CBI only after the media reported it in late June. A day after the transfer took place on July 7, the CBI registered a First Information Report against Setalvad, her husband and others for allegedly violating the law regulating foreign contributions.

On June 30 and July 10, Setalvad wrote letters to the CBI, saying she had not received any notification of the FIR, but was willing to cooperate and share whatever documents the bureau needed in the event of an investigation. The Ministry of Home Affairs has transferred all the documents that Setalvad had submitted in response to their queries to the CBI. However, she received no notice for the raid on Tuesday.

The raid’s timing is significant. On Wednesday, the Gujarat High Court will hear appeals by Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani, both of whom were convicted for their role in the Naroda Patiya massacre. Two weeks later, the same court will begin its final hearing on July 27 into the petition filed by Zakia Jafri, the widow of parliamentarian Ehsan Jafri who was killed by a Hindu mob in Ahmedabad’s Gulbarg Society.

The petition protests against a court-appointed Special Investigation Team’s closure report that said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his alleged role in the Gujarat riots. Setalvad’s organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace has been providing legal support for this and other Gujarat riot cases since 2002.

AK Sharma, now the deputy director of the CBI, could be one of those charge-sheeted if the high court invalidates the SIT closure report. A former special commissioner who headed the Ahmedabad Crime Branch, he was shifted to the CBI on April 22. It is not clear whether he is involved with the present foreign funding case against Setalvad since the CBI does not reveal its investigating officers in individual cases.

For now, the CBI says it will not seek judicial custody of the activist and Javed Anand.

“Judicial custody is the last step in this [investigation] procedure,” said Prasad. “There is no need for judicial custody for all cases. We are not yet looking into that option for this case.”

Where it began

Various state and central government authorities have been scrutinising Setalvad’s finances for almost two years now – but all their complaints arise from a single case, that of a proposed memorial at the Gulberg Society.

Some former residents of Gulberg Society, where 69 people, including Ehsan Jafri, were killed in 2002, filed an FIR against Setalvad’s organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace in February 2013. They alleged that Setalvad had misappropriated funds worth Rs 4.6 lakh that had been collected for a memorial at the society for the victims of the riots. Following a preliminary examination, the Gujarat police claimed that Setalvad and Anand had embezzled Rs 3.85 crore. Setalvad has denied these claims.

Despite this being a case of potential financial irregularities, the Gujarat police sought judicial custody to interrogate Setalvad and Anand, forcing them to seek anticipatory bail. The Gujarat High Court denied them anticipatory bail in February. Hours after this verdict, officers of the Gujarat police arrived at Setalvad’s home to arrest her. The Supreme Court granted them protection from arrest that day until it could hear the plea. It has not yet given a final decision on this.

It’s the same case

The case now with the CBI involves a potential violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act that emerged during the Gujarat police’s investigation of the Gulberg Society museum case. However, it has been tossed from one department to another since early this year, giving the impression that multiple issues have been raised against Setalvad.

In March, the Gujarat home department wrote to the Ministry of Home Affairs at the Centre, expressing concern about alleged irregularities in the finances of all three organisations run by Setalvad and Anand: Sabrang Communications, Sabrang Trust, and Citizens for Justice and Peace.

In April, representatives of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act wing of the Ministry of Home Affairs examined all their financial records. Near the end of April, the ministry put Ford Foundation on a watch list on the charge of funding “anti-national” activities. At the same time, an allegation appeared in the media that the foundation had transferred funds to Sabrang Communications in 2004 without government approval. Setalvad has denied these charges.

The home ministry exchanged a series of clarifications and memos with Setalvad through the first weeks of June about the accounts of Sabrang Communications in particular. On June 26, newspaper reports claimed that the ministry had decided to hand over the case to the CBI, alleging that Sabrang Communications had violated the law. The CBI filed an FIR against Setalvad, Anand and an associate Gulam Mohammed on July 8, which it followed with the raid on Tuesday.

Full text

Here is the full text of a statement Setalvad issued on Tuesday evening.
"As I write this, the search is still not concluded. It is shocking that while over a dozen members of the CBI are still in our premises conducting the search, Delhi spokesperson is misleading the public and our vast supporters by a series of misinformations and officials tweets.

In our view, and we repeat no laws have been broken by us. This is a continuation of the persecution and witchhunt firsrt launched by the Gujarat police in 2014 then under the dispensation that rules Delhi. The CBI has taken the same documents that we had voluntarily on inspection given the MHA (FCRA dept). Over 25,000 pages of documentary evidence has been given to the Gujarat Police. When they could not succeed with the bizaree and desperate attempts to gain custody (February 2015), it was the Guj Government Home Department that wrote to the MHA and the current round of the persecutions began.

It is shameful political vendetta. The Zakia Jafri case begins its final hearings on July 27 2015. The Naroda Patiya appeals (Kodnani and Bajrangi) are being heard in the Gujarat High Court tomorrow. This is nothing but a bid to subvert the cause of public justice and ensure that no justice happens in these cases.

We had written to the CBI offering full cooperation. The so called offences relate to documentary evidence. This search is nothing but an attempt to intimidate and humiliate. India should be ashamed that when scams like Vyapam are happening, over 50 persons dying, witnesses in Asaram Bapu case are dying; CBI is not appealing in critical cases related to crimes by politicians; the agency is being unleashed on human rights defenders standing up for the rights of Survivors of Mass Violence. It is worse than the British Raj. Pathetic

I repeat Sabrang Communications has broken no law(s). One: Section 3 of FCRA, 2010 bars certain 'persons' (political parties and its office bearers, government servants and those associated with registered newspapers and those involved in the production and broadcast of news) from receiving foreign donations. However, the very next section, Section 4 which is subtitled 'Persons to whom section 3 shall not apply' states: "Nothing contained in section 3 shall apply to the acceptance, by any person specified 3 in that section, of any foreign contribution where such contribution is accepted by him, subject to the provisions of section 10- (a) by way of salary, wages or other remuneration due to him or to any group of persons working under him, from any foreign source or by way of payment in the ordinary course of business transacted in India by such foreign source;"

Sabrang Communications and Publishing Pvt. Ltd Co. which published the monthly 'Communalism Combat' signed a Consultancy Agreement with Ford Foundation in 2004 and 2006 "to address the issues of caste and communalism" through a clearly defined set of activities which had nothing whatsoever to do with Communalism Combat or remuneration to Javed Anand or Teesta Setalvad towards discharging editorial/managerial functions. The Consultancy was signed by Sabrang Communications only after advice from eminent legal counsel that such an agreement was covered under the exclusion stipulated under Section 4 of the Act and therefore the consultancy fees (not grant or donation) received would not be in violation of FCRA 2010. Ford Foundation in fact deducted TDS with every installment of consultancy fees it paid to Sabrang Communications. The activities undertaken and the expenses incurred were in accordance with the agreement. Activities and Financial Reports were submitted annual to the satisfaction of Ford Foundation.

Two, Sabrang has kept records and provided copies of the same to the FCRA during the inspection visit of FCRA team in Mumbai on June 9 and 10, 2015, Additional documents as required were also posted to FCRA department.

Three: Deliberately or otherwise, the FCRA team is confusing the well- known lobbying that is part of the political process in the USA with advocacy initiatives whereby NGOs, civil society activists engage with the government of the day to draw their attention towards the legitimate issues of women, children, dalits, religious or linguistic or sexual minorities, differently-abled persons etc. It is ridiculous to equate such advocacy initiatives with lobbying.    Sabrang Communications therefore denies all the allegations.

Four:  While believing in the rule of law and due process, we believe that the State has innumerable devices at its disposal to simply throttle dissent, intimidate and through these crass techniques try to ensure coercive compliance."

 

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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