The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday observed that there was a deliberate attempt to cover up excess by the Mangaluru Police during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in December by implicating innocent people, reported The Hindu. Two persons were shot dead by the police and a third suffered bullet injuries during the protest on December 19. The administration had imposed curfew in several areas of the district and mobile internet services were suspended for 48 hours.
“The records indicate that a deliberate attempt has been made to fabricate evidence and to deprive the petitioners of their liberties,” said the court while granting bail to 21 people arrested in connection with the violence. “Any criminal antecedents of the petitioners are not disputed... There is no direct evidence to connect the petitioners with the alleged offences. The investigation appears to be mala fide and partisan.” They were arrested on charges of rioting, unlawful assembly and damage to property.
Justice John Michael Cunha passed the order while hearing the petitions filed by Mohammed Ashik and 20 others from Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. The accused were asked to furnish a bond of Rs 1 lakh and two sureties each. As part of their bail conditions, the accused will have to appear before the trial when required, not threaten witnesses, not be involved in similar offences and not leave the limits of the trial court without permission, according to The Times of India.
Justice Cunha said the overzealousness of the police was also evident from the fact that first information reports were registered under Section 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code against the two people killed in police firing. “In an offence involving a large number of people, the identity and participation of each accused must be fixed with reasonable certainty,” he said, according to The New Indian Express. “In the present cases, the identity appears to have been fixed on the basis of their affiliation to PFI and they being members of the Muslim community.”
The High Court also cited photographs and CCTV footage to point out that the crowd was unarmed except for one person who was holding a bottle. It also observed that the accused were not directly linked to the protests. “On the other hand, photographs produced by the petitioners show that the policemen themselves were pelting stones at the crowd,” the court added.
On December 19, more than 100 protestors had gathered near a bus stop close to the office of the deputy commissioner in Mangaluru. The police beat them with batons and pushed them back after an argument broke out. The police claimed that they charged the demonstrators with batons after they started hurling stones. Stone pelting was reported in the city’s Hamilton Circle, Central Market and State Bank areas. Protestors also allegedly hurled stones at the police in the Mukyaprana Temple and Bunder areas. Shops in these areas were closed amid prohibitory orders. In the evening, the police fired shots in the air and a curfew was imposed in areas under the jurisdiction of five police stations. Large gatherings were also banned.
In January, a report by a People’s Tribunal said that civilians who had no connection with the protest were subjected to indiscriminate lathicharge and police firing in Mangaluru on December 19. It recommended a probe by a judicial commission of inquiry into the “extra-judicial killings” during the firing. The People’s Tribunal was organised by Bengaluru-based Listening Post to report on the police firings. The report said that victims and other eyewitnesses alleged that the police used communal slurs and deplorable language to provoke the protestors. It said the police used excessive force and fired tear gas inside hospital premises as confirmed by administrators at Highland Hospital.