Over 1,000 activists, journalists, academics and other citizens on Friday condemned the Delhi Police’s alleged practice of coercing “confessional” statements to manufacture evidence and falsely implicate people in the communal violence that broke out in the Capital in February. They urged the police to conduct a fair and impartial investigation to book the real culprits of the riots.
The statement came after former Jawaharlal Nehru Student Umar Khalid, who has been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, wrote to Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava alleging that the Special Cell investigators were putting pressure on his acquaintances to implicate him in the case.
Khalid’s letter, dated September 1, claimed that an acquaintance of his was interrogated by the Delhi Police and a false confession against Khalid was extracted and videotaped. The pre-drafted statement of the police allegedly claimed that Khalid had proposed a “chakka jaam in Delhi” at the “opportune moment”. When the man said he had no knowledge of these claims, he was threatened that he would be arrested under UAPA if he refused.
In a statement released on Friday, the citizens said that Khalid’s letter was “shocking evidence” of the Delhi Police manufacturing charges against him through extorted statements. “We are gravely concerned that Dr Umar Khalid, a young scholar, already vilified and targeted relentlessly by a section of the media, is now being implicated in riots cases on the basis of manufactured evidence,” the statement said. “Umar Khalid is not above the law... But when the process of law is sought to be short circuited then any citizen’s liberty is gravely threatened.”
Pattern of coerced statements
The statement added that Khalid’s case was part of a larger pattern replicated by the Delhi Police in the case. It referred to a report by the Polisproject that said people have been allegedly coerced into accusing civil rights activists, particularly those connected to the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, of instigating the February attacks.
The statement added that other reports have also revealed that many of these confessional statements are identical, raising serious doubts about their veracity. Giving examples for this, the signatories said the chargesheet related to the killing of the Intelligence Bureau staffer Ankit Sharma (FIR number 65/20), had four identical “confessional” statements. This was also the case with another chargesheet on the Jafrabad protest (FIR number 50/20), that had 10 identical statements, they said.
“This pattern of coerced statements and false evidence is alarming,” the statement said. “We ask the Delhi Police to confront this evidence of fabrication and coercion, uphold the sanctity of law and procedures, and conduct a fair and just investigation so that the real culprits of the terrible violence that caused 53 deaths, injured hundreds and damaged property of thousands, are arrested.”
The statement added that the investigation into communal violence has undermined the faith of the public in the police as it is being undertaken in a “prejudicial manner, targeting the anti-CAA protestors and supporters, alleging a conspiracy”.
Activists question Delhi Police’s chronology of events
Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, activist Harsh Mander, Swaraj India President Yogendra Yadav, student activist Kawalpreet, and Umar Khalid on Friday also questioned the Delhi Police’s alleged attempts of falsely implicating activists in the violence. They demanded a court monitored probe into this investigation under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952.
At a press conference held earlier in the day, the activists said the communal violence in the Capital followed a provocative speech by BJP leader Kapil Mishra at the site of a sit-down protest by Muslim women against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Jafrabad on February 23. But instead of investigating the impact that such speeches had on the breakdown of law and order in Delhi, they said the police advanced the theory that the riots were the product of a “conspiracy” by leaders of the anti-CAA movement.
They added that despite “inconsistencies and lies” that have been rebutted publicly, the Delhi Police has “continued unrelentingly” to claim that the roots of the conspiracy of the riots lie in the protests against CAA.
“After all, the majority of targets of the Delhi violence – as pointed out even in the affidavit filed by the police in court – were Muslims, their livelihoods, properties and places of worship,” a statement released after the press conference stated. “But instead, the ‘investigation’ of the conspiracy behind the riots has chosen to target exactly those whom these hate speeches were made against – the participants and supporters of the protests against CAA/NRC/NPR.”
The statement added that the “chronology of events” advocated by the Delhi Police is “conspicuously silent” on the actions and statements of leaders of the BJP and actual incidents of violence since December. It then asked a few questions to the police about their version of events.
“Why is the chronology by the police silent on the two incidents of shootings on protesters that happened in Jamia Millia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh on 29th January and 1st February?” the statement said. “Why is the chronology silent on the statements made by Anurag Thakur exhorting his supporters to shoot whom he considers as traitors on 27th January – just a few days before the two shooting incidents?”
The activists further questioned why the police had failed to take any action against Mishra, who made several inciting statements, including threatening that his supporters will take the law into their own hands if the police did not clear the CAA protestors. “Does the Delhi police not consider these utterances as clearly an attempt to provoke violence and promote disaffection and divide between communities?” they asked.
“During the violence, multiple videos emerged of persons associated with the ruling dispensation openly inciting and participating in the violence and carnage,” the statement added. “...Why has the police not taken cognizance of all this so far?”
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Read the full statement from the press conference here
This press conference has been called in the backdrop of a continuing attempt by the Delhi Police to falsely implicate activists of the anti-CAA/NRC/NPR movements as the masterminds of the brutal communal violence in parts of North-east Delhi in February that led to the death of 53 people, and injured hundreds.
Over the past half year, the supporters and participants of these protests continue to be summoned by the police, harassed and subjected to long interrogations. Several young activists and students also continue to languish in prison under the draconian anti-terror law – UAPA – for almost 6 months now, without any official charges framed against them. Despite inconsistencies and lies that have been rebutted publicly, the Delhi Police has continued unrelentingly with the theory – not coincidentally propounded by the ruling dispensation – that the roots of the conspiracy of the riots lie in the protests against CAA.
However, on several occasions since December 2019, leaders and supporters of the BJP were seen inciting people to take the law into their own hands and making hate speeches. It would have been reasonable to expect any fair investigative agency to probe the impact such speeches had on the gradual breakdown of law and order in Delhi and subsequently its complete collapse in parts of North-East Delhi between 23-26 February.
After all, the majority of targets of the Delhi violence – as pointed out even in the affidavit filed by the police in court - were Muslims, their livelihoods, properties and places of worship. But instead, the ‘investigation’ of the conspiracy behind the riots has chosen to target exactly those whom these hate speeches were made against – the participants and supporters of the protests against CAA/NRC/NPR.
On more than one occasion, the police has tried to build a ‘chronology’ of events as part of this conspiracy. In this version, the conspiracy of these riots began with the anti-CAA protests in Jamia Millia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh in mid-December. The chronology then goes on to detail other major anti-CAA protests in Delhi as all part of this conspiracy and the prominent voices as conspirators. This ‘chronology’, however, is conspicuously silent on the actions and statements of leaders of the BJP and actual incidents of violence since December.
We want to ask a few pointed questions to the Delhi Police, about which it has maintained an evasive silence:
● On 25th February, a statement was released by the Press Information Bureau, after Home Minister Amit Shah chaired a meeting attended by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal. The statement said. “Shri Shah noted that the professional assessment is that the violence in the capital has been spontaneous.” However, just a few days later, the Home Minister contradicted his previous statement and stated in the Lok Sabha that the riots were a pre-planned conspiracy? This was even before any investigation had begun into the riots. Is the entire investigation just a façade to arrive at pre-meditated conclusions already announced before the investigation had even commenced?
● Why is the chronology by the police silent on the two incidents of shootings on protestors that happened in Jamia Millia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh on 29th January and 1st February? Why is the chronology silent on the statements made by Anurag Thakur exhorting his supporters to shoot whom he considers as traitors on 27th January – just a few days before the two shooting incidents?
● Between December and February, BJP leader Kapil Mishra made several inciting statements asking people to shoot the ‘traitors’ in December 2019, calling the upcoming Delhi elections a battle between India and Pakistan in first week of February 2020, and also threatening in front of the DCP that his supporters will take the law into their own hands if the police does not clear the protestors. Does the Delhi police not consider these utterances as clearly an attempt to provoke violence and promote disaffection and divide between communities?
● During the violence, multiple videos emerged of persons associated with the ruling dispensation openly inciting and participating in the violence and carnage. In one such video, which was streamed live on Facebook from Maujpur, a woman named Ragini Tiwari is seen openly asking people to kill or die. Why does her name not find any mention in the chronology of the ‘conspiracy’ put out by the Delhi Police? Reports have also surfaced accusing BJP leaders like Satya Pal Singh, Jagdish Pradhan, Nand Kishore Gujjar and Mohan Singh Bisht. Why has the police not taken cognizance of all this so far?
● A video showed officials of the Delhi Police assaulting four brutally injured men, and forcing them to chant the national anthem. One of them, 23 year old Faizan, subsequently succumbed to the injuries he sustained in this assault. Has the Delhi Police initiated any actions against its personnel who were involved in this assault, that led to the death of one person?
● Has the police even taken cognisance of the brutal custodial torture meted out to one of the arrested persons Khalid Saifi?
● Has the police ordered any probe to several accounts where police allegedly was complicit in the violence, directing mobs pelting stones or looking the other way when mobs were indulging in violence in front of them. There have been multiple occasions showing Police breaking CCTV cameras too. Are these charges being fairly probed?
● Many of those already arrested were initially in different FIRs. It was only after they secured bail in the cases for which they were initially arrested, that the police implicated them in the conspiracy case under UAPA. Is this a ploy to keep protestors in jail for long periods, without the need to provide evidence or frame charges? Why is a draconian anti-terror law like UAPA being used to probe this case?
● It has also come to our notice that the police has been coercing people it has summoned for questioning to give false statements. Is this a desperate attempt by the police to buttress its conspiracy theory in the absence of any real credible evidence?
● Confessions made in police custody have no value as evidence in deciding the guilt of anyone. But there has been more than one instance of ‘confessions’ of those arrested making their way to the press. This has been done despite a High Court ruling regarding one of the accused against such leakages of the details of the investigation to the press. Why is the police trying to prejudice public opinion against those arrested, even before it has officially framed any charges?
● In its latest line of questioning, the Delhi Police has been grilling people on their about conversations in some Whatsapp groups with hundreds of members. Isn’t it ridiculous to believe that riots of this scale were conspired for several weeks in Whatsapp groups with hundreds of people and the police never got to know about them? Or is the police pursuing this line of argument in order to safeguard real culprits?
The impunity granted to the supporters of the ruling dispensation in the clear incitement to violence seems to be a repeat of the impunity that the Delhi Police has provided over decades to the political leaders who were involved in inciting and participating in the 1984 anti-Sikh genocide. However, this time, the Delhi Police seems to have gone one step ahead, and while providing impunity to the netas, it has started targeting the students and activists who have been critical of the regime.
The entire country witnessed massive protests against the discriminatory CAA-NRC-NPR. The protests were peaceful, democratic and continuously spoke about the supremacy of the constitution and unity in diversity of the nation. The protests were mostly led by women and saw spirited participation by all sections of the society. This current witch-hunting of anti-CAA protesters is not only an attack on a few individuals. Such a sinister profiling of the democratic mass movement basically criminalizes our basic right to protest against the policies of the ruling dispensation of the day. It erodes public faith in rule of law and chokes democratic dissent.
We reiterate our opposition to CAA-NRC-NPR and shall continue our peaceful and democratic protest against such anti-people laws. We demand a court monitored investigation or an inquiry into this investigation under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, by sitting/retired judge(s) of the higher judiciary.