The Gujarat Police’s Anti-Terror Squad on Saturday took Mumbai activist Teesta Setalvad into custody and aim to move her to Ahmedabad, a lawyer familiar with the situation told Scroll.in.
As the case was unfolding, the Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch arrested former Gujarat Director General of Police RB Sreekumar from his home in Gandhinagar, The Indian Express reported. Sreekumar worked with Setalvad on the 2002 Gujarat riots cases.
The police want to question Setalvad in connection with the statements she made about the violence at Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Society in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning in 2002.
A mob went on a rampage in Gulberg Society on February 28, 2002, setting fire to homes. Sixty-nine persons died, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was hacked to death. The day before, 59 persons returning from Ayodhya had died when a coach of the Sabarmati Express was burnt in Godhra in Gujarat.
The action against Setalvad came hours after Union Home Minister Amit Shah in an interview with ANI accused Setalvad of giving baseless information to the police about the 2002 Gujarat riots.
On Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed allegations of “larger conspiracy” levelled by Zakia Jafri, the wife of Ehsan Jafri, against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior Gujarat officials. Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat at that time.
In its judgement, the court read a statement made by the state government that Setalvad, a co-petitioner in the case, exploited the emotions of Zakia Jafri. The court dismissed Zakia Jafri’s plea challenging the report of a Special Investigation Team that had cleared Modi of involvement in the riots.
On Saturday, a first information report was filed against Setalvad, Sreekumar, suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt and others. In 2019, the Supreme Court had sentenced Bhatt to life imprisonment in connection with a 1990 custodial death case.
“Sanjiv Bhatt, RB Sreekumar, Teesta Setalvad and others conspired to abuse the process of law by fabricating false evidence to make several persons to be convicted for an offence that is punishable with capital punishment thereby committing an offence punishable under section 194 of the IPC,” the FIR alleged.
The findings submitted by the Special Investigation Team in the Gujarat riots case indicated that Setalvad had forged some facts and documents, the FIR alleged.
“There is material in the final report submitted by the SIT which indicates that Teesta Setalvad had concocted or forged or fabricated facts and documents and evidence including fabrication of documents by persons who were prospective witnesses of the complainant,” it stated. “It is not only a case of fabrication of documents but also of influencing and tutoring the witnesses and making them depose on pre-typed affidavits, as has been noted in the judgement of the Gujarat High Court in November 2011.”
The FIR listed offences under Sections 194 (fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence), 211 (false charge of offence made with intent to injure), 218 (public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save person from punishment or property from forfeiture), 468 (forgery), 471 and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.
The police arrived at her home in the city’s Juhu neighbourhood around 3 pm on Saturday, a person in Setalvad’s office said. She was detained by the Gujarat police and taken to the Santacruz police station in Mumbai.
The action against the activist was taken based on a complaint filed in Ahmedabad by police inspector Darshansinh B Barad, who cited the Supreme Court judgement stating that the plea by Zakia Jafri was filed “to keep the pot boiling for ulterior design”.
At the police station on Saturday, Setalvad filed a complaint against JH Patel, attached to the Ahmedabad Anti Terrorism Squad, and a female police officer for allegedly assaulting her.
“Both of them forcibly came into my bedroom, assaulted me when I was only asking for them to allow me to speak to my lawyer Vijay Hiremath before I proceed [with the detention],” she wrote in her complaint. “They did not show me any FIR or warrant on why they had [8 to 9 people] barge into my compound.”
She said the assault has left her with a big bruise on her left hand.
Earlier in the day, Shah told ANI that Zakia Jafri had pursued the case on “someone else’s” instructions.
“NGO signed affidavits of several victims and they didn’t even know,” he added. “Everyone knows that Teesta Setalvad’s NGO [Citizens for Justice and Peace] was doing all this. When the [Congress-led] UPA [United Progressive Alliance] government came to power at that time, it helped the NGO a lot.”
Citizens for Justice and Peace provides legal aid to survivors of the Gujarat riots. Setalvad is the organisation’s secretary.
In 2008, a Special Investigation Team was appointed by the Supreme Court to submit a report on the number of trials in connection to the Gujarat riots, Bar and Bench reported. It also ordered the team to investigate the complaint filed by Jafri.
The report cleared 64 people, including Modi, in the case. The team also submitted its closure report on February 8, 2012, and said that there was no prosecutable evidence against Modi and the 63 others.
But Jafri challenged the closure report, alleging that the investigation team had ignored crucial evidence. She demanded an inquiry against the Special Investigation Team.
In 2013, the magistrate, who had received the report, upheld it and dismissed her petition.
She had then moved the Gujarat High Court. In 2017, the High Court upheld the magistrate’s decision and dismissed her plea.
Jafri along with activist Setalvad then approached the Supreme Court, challenging this decision to accept the Special Investigation Team’s clean chit.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state government, submitted in the Supreme Court that the state did “everything it could”, Bar and Bench reported.
He questioned the credibility of Setalvad and Citizens for Justice group. He also alleged that the activist misused money donated for the welfare of the riot victims.
“Setalvad was the force behind Zakia Jafri, taking advantage of her plight to push for action,” Mehta submitted.